In the course of owning and managing 21 ports across the UK, Associated British Ports has amassed a land bank with tremendous development potential. We spoke to ABP’s Commercial Director, Jens Skibsted Nielsen and its Head of Property, Huw Turner, about how these opportunities can be realised.
As we are an island race, ports havealways been important to this country. The importance of individual ports may have ebbed and flowed as the world of commerce has changed over the centuries but they remain of major importance as freight hubs.
Associated British Ports is the leading owner of UK port facilities. Its operational portfolio is spread across more than 12,000 acres but, of more pertinence for the property business, it has now identified in excess of 2,000 acres that it wants to bring forward for development.
The first wind turbines produced by Siemens in their new Hull facility will be used at the Dudgeon offshore wind farm, off the Norfolk coast, and will provide clean power to more than 410,000 UK households.
We seek to add value before bringing sites to the market. So whether that added value is in planning, or planning and infrastructure, or planning with design & build, we’re looking at where we can best contribute.
The people charged with this are ABP’s Commercial Director, Jens Skibsted Nielsen and its Head of Property, Huw Turner, who have to reconcile the longterm operational needs of the ports whilst capitalising on the returns that can be generated from developing land which is not core to their function. Skibsted Nielsen explains: “ABP is - at its core - a port operating company. In that context, property deals with occupiers that generate cargo across the quay are our ideal. They stimulate activity at the
port and also create rental revenue.
"However, we accept that in certain locations we have vacant or under-utilised land that we could be doing other things with. Having analysed all our ports, we have now identified a substantial landbank that can be brought forward for development and this is where we want to engage with the mainstream property sector."
A new marketing push focusing on the development opportunities is being planned and will address the general lack of awareness of the potential that the ABP Property sites have.
Several major projects have already been delivered and are creating a template for further schemes. In Hull, ABP Property worked with industrial giant, Siemens, on the design and build of a £310m offshore wind turbine production facility. On a site totalling more than 100 acres, the facility includes a production unit for the manufacture of 75-metre turbine blades, office
accommodation plus a 132,000 sq ft servicing and maintenance building.
In terms of what is upcoming on the development scene, Turner cites a project that is planned in Cardiff Bay.
"We have a site that we want to bring forward for a mixed use of leisure and residential-led development. The plan is to create around 200 homes with 30,000 sq ft of associated amenities and public realm improvements. Once we have secured planning consent for the masterplan, we’ll be taking the site to the market."
Whether working as a partner – as in the Siemens project – or as an enabler for getting sites ready for the market, ABP Property can offer turnkey build-tosuit programmes for single properties or complete developments. Its national and regional expertise is supplemented by external market-facing consultants to ensure that customers receive a fully-informed development service. The development process is managed from concept to completion by the ABP Property team who work with customers
to deliver the project on brief, on time and on budget.
Turner’s experience leaves him wellplaced to reconcile the operational needs of the ports whilst generating development income: "I’ve been with ABP since 1999. I joined at a technical grade as a surveyor, so at the bottom of the ladder. I’ve had seven or eight jobs within ABP now; the majority on the property side, but I have also worked on the operational side of the business, and had a spell as a port superintendent".
The development sites that are available differ widely both in terms of size and what they will be suitable for. Turner notes: "In effect, we have a full range of sites from small, half acre/acre plots right up to a strategic site in Hull which is 550 acres".
Working with The Completely Group, ABP is creating a market awareness campaign which will aim to demonstrate to the property development sector just what potential there is around the Group’s port properties.
"We seek to add value before bringing sites to the market”, emphasises Skibsted Nielsen, “so whether that added value is in planning, or planning and infrastructure, or planning with design & build, we’re looking at where we can best contribute".
He adds that this could extend to joint ventures where "it is the best and most apt means to move something forward in an appropriate timescale and can also minimise risk whilst delivering value".
It will be fascinating to see how the development market engages with this remarkable range of opportunities.