Real Estate Research

Multi-let industrial estates: more than just your average manufacturer

What is a multi-let industrial asset? Located near urban areas, estates are comprised of different sized units let to multiple occupiers and are usually under single ownership.


Patrick Bone

Patrick Bone

Property Analyst


What is a multi-let industrial asset? Located near urban areas, estates are comprised of different sized units let to multiple occupiers and are usually under single ownership. The function of these assets is to provide affordable space for a wide range of activities. Tenants include those associated with lower-skilled or high-tech manufacturing, wholesale, transport and construction. There are some regional specialisms: manufacturing in the North West and the Midlands, high-tech firms in the East of England and wholesalers, communications and transport in London and the South East.

What drives demand for space on industrial estates? 

The UK economy continues to improve with each passing quarter, but how and why has this translated into demand for industrial space? At 66 million sq ft, take up of units on multi-let estates was robust in 2013, with new lettings up 21% year-on-year for units below 100,000 sq ft1. Encouragingly; increased levels of activity were recorded across all UK regions, with the exception of the North West. The reason behind this uptick in demand is the strengthening and diversification of the tenant base. Manufacturing has been a traditional driver of requirements for standard industrial space. In long-term decline in many developed economies, output from UK firms has proven to be (relatively) more resilient due to the strength of its key industries. The automotive sector has been one recent British success story; car production is now back to pre-recession levels2(Figure 1) and brands such as Nissan, Mini, Rolls Royce and Jaguar Land Rover are investing in new plants and storage in the UK. This additional capacity also generates demand for floor space further down the chain. For instance, suppliers are often located close to warehouses to assist ‘just in time’ delivery commitments.

An interesting feature of the UK manufacturing sector is the geographical clustering of companies producing similar goods. Examples include aerospace in Lancashire, precision engineering in Gloucestershire, car and motorsport production in Birmingham and life sciences in Berkshire and Surrey. Being in close proximity benefits firms by facilitating the sharing of technology, knowledge and suppliers. This means a diverse range of buildings are required in one local area for functions such as research and development, production and delivery.

Manufacturing is more than just making things 

Multi-let is not just reliant on manufacturing; it has also been a direct beneficiary of the esurgence in parcel deliveries. The advent of the internet and e-commerce had a huge structural impact on both the traditional postal system and the retail market. However, the number of parcels from online retailers increased by 3.7% per annum between 2008 and 2013 and volumes are forecast to grow by a further 3% per annum out of 2018 (Figure 2)3. A reduction in expected delivery times has created demand from parcel operators for multi-let space close to large urban areas and transport systems; they will often compromise on a bespoke hub over location.

Two further developments that will positively influence demand for multi-let estates are ‘3D printing’ and ‘re-shoring’. 3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a technique that builds solid objects using a digital file as a reference point. Whilst still very much in its infancy, this process has the potential to generate future requirements for space in the production and delivery of the printer, its base materials and final outputs.

Finally, there is increased evidence of ‘re-shoring’ by domestic firms such as Dyson, Hornby and
John Lewis; the repatriation of industrial production back to the UK from overseas. In 2013, 15% of companies surveyed by the Manufacturing Advisory Service reported they have or are re-shoring, compared to 4% actively off-shoring 4 Rising wages in many countries, particularly China, alongside a desire to control quality and reduce lead times have driven this turnaround.


1 Industrial Property Trends Today. JLL, 2014

2 The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, 2014

3 The Outlook for UK Mail Volumes to 2023. PwC, 2013

4 MAS Barometer. Manufacturing Advisory Service, 2013

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