Self-Storage in the U.K. and Europe: From Planning to Reality

Graham Lomax Comments
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Generally, someone wishing to open a self-storage facility engages the services of an architect, who will do the design work that creates a facility according to specified requirements (and incorporates as much of his artistic flair as he can get away with—he is an architect, after all).

In most circumstances, the architect will deal with local authorities on behalf of his client to ensure the building is designed within set requirements. He will apply for any required planning permissions and building-regulation approvals, as any work carried out will need to adhere to strict codes and regulations that state acceptable (and unacceptable) building practices.

Since the property may have been previously used for something completely different, an application will need to be submitted for change of use. The local authority will tell the applicant under which class the current building falls based on The Use Classes Act of 1995. For example, retail comes under Class A1, the sale of hot food is Class A3, and removals and storage is generally Class B8. To change from one class to another requires a planning-permission application made to the local authority, which will have its own requirements based on the area. Generally, to enable a change of use to B8, the authorities will require the building is in a main or secondary employment area.

Assuming all local authority requirements are met, a separate negotiating process could then ensue concerning landlord issues. For example, if someone is assuming a lease from a landlord, he may have his own requirements for the building, which would need careful consideration.

One of the biggest problems for the potential self-storage operator is finding an available site. Competition for suitable sites is strong, with large operators generally having deeper pockets than smaller operators trying to break into the market. The gamble is high. The prospect needs to identify a suitable site, size, location, etc., and it will almost certainly require reclassification. This process takes an average of eight weeks, not including the time required for any design work and engineering calculations for the remodeling.

Since this phase could mean spending a lot of cash, it is critical for an operator to know if he can afford to undertake all this work before purchasing the building. Being denied planning would be bad enough, but if he has already signed the contract to purchase the property, he may be stuck with an empty building he cannot develop.

The best course of action is to apply for outline planning permission before purchasing the site. However, there is always the risk of another developer beating him to the punch. This is where using an experienced team that knows the market, local authorities and the self-storage industry can prevent the waste of time and money.

Graham Lomax is a founding director of Rabco Europe Ltd., based in Essex, England. Rabco Europe opened in August 2001 to expand The Rabco Corp.'s Orlando, Fla.-based operation into the European market. For more information, visit www.rabcoeurope.com.

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