Thu, 11 January, 2024
The TWI Group has a long history with property. The most important component was the purchase of Abington Hall in 1946, which remains home to our global headquarters today. Over the decades, we have continued to develop Abington Hall and the surrounding land, leading to the construction of new offices and laboratories on the estate.
In the 1990s, TWI entered a joint venture partnership which saw the creation of Granta Park, a leading global life science campus. Our ownership of investment property on the Park has provided a profitable income stream since 2000, which has been used to invest in research to enhance the service to our Professional and Industrial Members.
In addition to our premises in Cambridgeshire, TWI occupies and has invested in freehold ownership of three other modern sites in the UK; Port Talbot, Middlesbrough and Rotherham, which house technology and training services. These regional locations have been developed over the past two decades, supported by local government, enabling further growth and creating jobs to serve our Members’ needs.
It is not just the UK business which has been expanding. TWI has developed into a global organisation, with 13 international offices. We have invested in a large training facility in Malaysia, where we provide underwater training, and have committed to investing in India where strong demand for our services has been evidenced over the past ten years. As a result of all of this expansion, our Cambridge headquarters now represents roughly 57% of headcount and footprint globally.
The success of Cambridge as a globally recognised life science hub has been a double-edged sword for TWI. It has provided the right brand image for a leading global, membership-based organisation. In addition, it has created strong occupier demand, resulting in over £150m of income for the Group from our investment property since the millennium. The support this income has provided to the Group’s operations has been critical to delivering our mission of serving our Members. However, the downside of the buoyant property market has been the soaring increase in the cost of operating from the Granta Park site, due to external factors, such as high business rates, service charges, utilities, etc.
This has led the Executive Directors and TWI’s Council to undertake the preparation of a property strategy to determine what the portfolio should look like over the next 20 years to best serve the TWI Group mission. This process will involve consultation with key stakeholders, with this article serving as a starting point to raise awareness of the emerging strategy. One of the most important considerations in preparing the plan is our staff as, without their expertise, we would not be able to service our Members in the high-quality manner we aspire to. With this in mind, the intention is to retain our headquarters in Cambridgeshire at Granta Park. However, to achieve this, the footprint must be sized to an affordable cost base. We are therefore currently undertaking an operational requirements audit to capture the building specifications required to deliver our technology roadmap.
To enable an understanding of what might be possible within TWI’s freehold ownership at Granta Park, an outline planning application was prepared and submitted in 2022 (Planning Reference: 22/05549/OUT). This application has recently been approved, confirming what development could be acceptable in terms of building location, footprint and height.
This outline planning permission will allow us to consider our accommodation options more fully and identify the optimum footprint for future operational use. Within the application is a proposed extension to the current large engineering hall known as Building 3. The current expectation is that this will form the first phase of development, providing sustainable accommodation to consolidate engineering activities into one larger building. This will improve affordability as well as environmental sustainability through a more modern building design. The other proposed buildings (B4, B5, B6), shown as replacing the older buildings (BBH, TG, RS, RJ), are considered conceptual at this stage as they are subject to the determination of our operational requirements.
Should it be determined that there is a surplus of land beyond our operational needs, TWI will seek partnership opportunities to deliver further investment property development within the estate. We have been impacted in recent years by competitors receiving significant core funding from government, enabling much larger investment than is sustainably affordable for the Group. However, for TWI, property income provides an opportunity to replicate such core funding and enable a secure, controllable income stream to invest in our people, capabilities and equipment.
As we enter 2024, the focus from a property standpoint will be on determining the long-term needs of the business and the role the Granta Park site plays in this strategy. These are big decisions for the company and its workforce. Members will be updated on any changes to services. The TWI Group is committed to delivering a sustainable property strategy and excited for what the future may hold.
Article Courtesy: TWI CEO, Aamir Khalid and Associate Director of Operations, Warren Bath
(Images Courtesy of Hawkins/Brown)