One of the most pressing issues for Leicestershire’s fast growing SMEs is the lack of suitable premises for them to expand into.
There is a backlog of demand for industrial buildings of below 120,000 sq ft, yet the focus appears to have been on the provision of larger warehouses of 200,000 sq ft plus, and mega-sheds such as Amazon’s 1 million sq ft warehouse near Coalville, and the East Midlands Gateway development at Junction 24.
While I do not want to criticise the creation of opportunities to attract the likes of Amazon and DPD to these sites, creating hundreds of jobs, I do feel there needs to be land set aside for smaller, local owner occupier businesses looking to expand.
My concern is, that if the focus continues to be on granting permission for mega-sheds, we are neglecting the needs of the hundreds of entrepreneurial SMEs which underpin our county’s economy.
There is a need for local authorities, and land owners to consider the release of more land for the development of smaller industrial buildings to meet the needs of local businesses.
Last year Rotherhill managed to buy a 14-acre site, Rothley Lodge Commercial Park, near Loughborough, from Samworth Brothers, with funding provided by a syndicate of Mattioli Woods investors.
We secured planning permission for three buildings – the largest being 120,000 sq ft – with consent for manufacturing and light industrial buildings.
We already have strong interest in all three of the buildings, precisely because we are creating a rare opportunity for these businesses, by providing them with space in the sub 150,000 sq ft category.
Demand for industrial space in the East Midlands is increasing and remains ahead of the national average. But if the supply shortage continues for much longer I fear local companies will be restricted in their growth plans and will look for space elsewhere.
We worked with Oadby Plastics to find them space to grow in Leicestershire and it took five years. We eventually found them an unloved building in Scudamore Road, Leicester, where we project managed its transformation into the firm’s 140,000 sq ft national distribution centre of offices, production and warehouse space.
In addition, we worked hard to secure Babcock International when the FTSE 100 company was contemplating relocating its 500 staff in Whetstone outside the county.
We found them a 70,000 sq ft property in Radar Road in Braunstone Frith, which we redeveloped for them.
I also believe that we all need to work that bit harder collaborating with businesses to help them find premises which can either be built from scratch or redeveloped to keep them in Leicestershire.
By ‘we’ I mean land owners, developers, planners. We need to listen to our local businesses’ requirements and make them feel wanted, rather than placing too much emphasis on attracting inward investment.
This is vitally important, because if our entrepreneurial and growing SMEs were to leave, Leicestershire’s economy would start to look a lot less vibrant.