Going Underground? New Heathrow warehousing plan approved

Plans for a “pioneering” 175,000 sqm (1.9 million sq ft) underground warehouse near Heathrow airport were approved last week, with the ambitious project potentially serving as a blueprint for other underground warehousing and logistics developments in high-value urban land areas.

Hounslow Borough Council’s planning committee last Thursday unanimously approved the proposals submitted by the landowner, Formal Investments, to create the largest new recreational park in West London for more than 100 years on top of a 9m-high warehouse on 45 hectares (110 acres) of disused land. The site is less than 1.5 km from Heathrow Airport in London’s Hounslow area at Rectory Farm, Heston, alongside The Parkway (A312) and Bath Road (A4).

Work is expected to begin in 2019, with the first area of the park opening in 2020 and the first underground warehouse space is expected to be available for businesses to use from 2022, during a 15-year period of extraction, construction and landscaping activity.

The property agents working as part of the Rectory Farm team are Savills and CBRE.

Samantha Smith, senior director at CBRE, said:

“We are thrilled to be involved in such a massively pioneering project that will establish a new concept in the UK for a new resource for urban logistics. Whilst there is a lot of interest in multi-storey, multi-level warehousing development, Rectory Farm’s underground approach is exactly right for its location.

“It will be the biggest such speculative development within the M25 and its technical and operational aspects are already proven at existing locations in other parts of the world.”

Bridget Outtrim, director at Savills, said:

“Rectory Farm offers a pioneering and innovative solution to the shortage of industrial space inside the M25. Its key feature is its unique combination of quantum of developable space and close proximity to West London’s growing population.”

Nicholas King, director for landowner Formal Investments, said:

“It is hugely exciting to know these ambitious and visionary plans, overwhelmingly supported by local residents, have taken a massive step towards going ahead. With increasing worldwide demand for warehousing space close to and within cities, we believe Rectory Farm’s creative solution of putting such infrastructure underground whilst enhancing the surface environment could inspire similar approaches elsewhere.

“We have worked hard with Hounslow’s planners and councillors to get the proposals right, so that we can provide a local economic boost and give the people of Hounslow a tremendous legacy in the form of a new public park free for all to enjoy.”

The Rectory Farm project has been devised by a team of world-class consultants – including architect Carmody Groarke, development expert DP9, landscape architect VOGT, engineer ARUP and the recently added property and construction consultancy Gleeds. The mineral extraction will take place “discreetly” beneath the park’s surface through an innovative ‘top-down’ construction method, with the process contained below ground in contrast to open cast mining.

Kevin Carmody, of Carmody Groarke, said:

“As our global cities become increasingly urbanised, pressure on sourcing and distributing resources will undoubtedly grow accordingly. At the same time, architects and designers, investors and politicians, have the duty to meet these huge challenges with very localised strategies, to positively improve places that directly affect people’s lives.” 

Tristan McDonnell, director of Arup, said:

“As engineers our challenge was to find a way to minimise disruption and make the park available to the community as quickly as possible. Together with Carmody Groarke, we’ve achieved this by applying top-down construction methods, commonly used for high rise buildings with deep basements.

“At Rectory Farm, a structural roof slab and foundations will be installed to allow excavation and construction to progress discretely below ground. This method means the community won’t have to wait long to enjoy the largest park created in West London for 100 years.”

The proposal comes as developers look at creative ways to fit warehousing into the crowded airport property market. Along with underground warehousing, developers have also used multi-storey warehouse developments in areas of particularly high-value land. Indeed, multi-storey air cargo handling developments at Heathrow airport include the X2 facility and British Airways World Cargo’s Ascentis building.

Formal Investments said the large new public park will provide much needed recreational space linking local communities and will include full size grass and all-weather football pitches, hockey and cricket pitches, plus a variety of other facilities alongside fields and tree-lined paths for walking, running and cycling. Historically the ‘green belt’ land was agricultural but has not been farmed since 1996 due to years of antisocial behavior, fly tipping, trespass, vandalism and concerns over food safety.

Source: Lloyd's Loading List

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