“Land and energy are the biggest challenges”

Tholen – “There is more to it than just designing and building these days,” says Rinus Verhey, director of Heembouw Bedrijfsruimten, about the development of construction projects in the fresh produce sector. In the September issue of the trade magazine Primeur, he points to the two biggest challenges he is currently facing: scarcity of land and available power capacity. “Almost all municipal industrial plots are sold out, and new plots are heavily oversubscribed. This is not new, by the way. That is why for more than 15 years we have had our own land database, where we keep track of vacant land positions. In addition to municipal land, it also includes private land and rehabilitation plots. To serve the customer as well as possible regarding land.”

So-called ‘brownfield’ locations are also offered in the land database. “We are switching to ‘brownfields’. These are existing industrial areas where buildings are vacant, and we demolish existing buildings to create plots. This provides a solution for finding land positions, but it is longer routes. The scarcity will therefore be high for the time being.” In certain areas, Rinus observes that companies are forced to leave a certain region due to a lack of space to ensure autonomous growth. “A company will often prefer to stay in its own region, but you now see that in order to facilitate growth, companies are forced to move to another region.” The director sees this phenomenon especially occurring in the regions of Utrecht, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Eindhoven.

Sufficient power capacity?
Energy capacity, or rather the lack thereof, is also a source of concern. Certainly where fruit and vegetables are built, says Rinus. This is because the fruit and vegetable sector often involves conditioned buildings, which require more electricity than ordinary business premises. “Before we buy a plot of land, we already check whether there is sufficient power capacity for both the supply and return of power.” This capacity is often available – especially in the ‘brownfield’ locations – but in some situations – often ‘greenfield’ (brand new) locations – the capacity appears to be insufficient. “It is important to check it in advance, because the network is about to filter down. This is mainly due to the extensive use of solar panels, but data centers and charging points for electric cars also require power from the grid. Action is being taken, but it will take time.”

In places where the necessary power capacity is lacking, an ‘off-grid’ system can be a solution. “In that case, a company uses solar panels, batteries and, if necessary, a hydrogen or gas turbine installation to cover its own energy needs.” Of course, it comes with a price that makes the solution possible for buildings or clusters of buildings of 50,000 m² and larger, says Rinus. “Sometimes this solution is forced because, for example, enough power cannot be supplied for a long time, because the permit procedure and the build-up of additional power capacity is a lengthy process. It sometimes takes four to five years before the capacity is actually increased.”

Sustainability ambitions remain high
Another aspect that is also felt in the construction sector is inflation and cost increases. “It definitely counts,” says Rinus. He can conclude that it has not yet led to the cessation of construction projects, although it is sometimes decided in the lead phase to postpone a project. “At the moment, customer demand remains high, especially from logistics parties. In the manufacturing industry, it falls a little.” Nor can the director see for the time being that the economic conditions have an influence on the realization of, for example, sustainability ambitions.

“Sustainability ambitions remain high. This is partly due to Dutch regulations, but demand from investors is also high. And we as Heembouw are also intrinsically motivated to implement sustainability measures as much as possible, where it is budget neutral, we do it anyway, and a sustainable solution takes precedence over a ‘traditional’ one. And for investments that cost more money, the customer makes his own decisions. It can be payback time, but also your own footprint or your own sustainability ambitions.”

Heembouw is required to achieve an MPG (Environmental Performance Buildings) value of at least 30% below the legal standard. “By the way, it is not yet available for commercial buildings, but we stick to the standard of 1.0, which applies to offices. With our logistics buildings, we are on average about 40 percent lower. “For example, almost all buildings that Heembouw produces are built gas-free, except where necessary for specific production processes, and we work with suppliers to develop materials that are less harmful to the environment, such as the use of circular concrete.

Storage capacity
Where the cost increases started with the logistical struggles surrounding the corona pandemic, sea freight in particular still has to deal with congestion, which reduces the security of supply for container freight, and Rinus points out that this is leading to a surprising development for the construction industry. “In order to neutralize the blockages in the supply chain as much as possible, the parties are building up more warehouses. In particular, companies that depend on goods from Asia are increasing their storage capacity in order to meet the security of supply for their customers in the Netherlands or Europe. It is a move that is beneficial to our market because it requires more buildings.” Rinus expects this trend to continue for some time.

Nature inclusive
In addition to sustainability and energy, the focus in design and construction is also increasingly on nature inclusivity, the director observes. “Nature inclusive is a key theme in more and more of our projects. As a design builder, we can also take steps in this direction because we are in the driver’s seat from development and design to realization and maintenance. Design with nature in mind involves ecologists and landscape architects. So we create space for biodiversity, and at the same time make a pleasant workplace for the employees.”

As an example, the director mentions a recent project with a roof garden of 1,900 m², which provides an extra experience and, thanks to trees, bushes and nest boxes, nourishes the local flora and fauna. “But there is also more attention to nature in the outdoor area.” There, too, we provide wide green areas with trees and plants that match the environment, and we make climate adaptations. For example, parking areas are semi-paved so that water runs off easily, and mossedum is increasingly used on the roofs to increase the accumulating capacity. “If, for example, you apply this to the roof of a cold store, the insulation value increases and the water can be kept on for a longer time. Indirectly, this provides cooling capacity. That way you can combine things nicely.”

This article was previously published in number 9, volume 36 of Primeur. See www.agfprimeur.nl.

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Rinus Verhey

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