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Previous industrial revolutions changed the landscape of the UK – the impact of the next one is likely to be just as great.

Property law is often viewed as the dusty old ‘history and geography’ part of legal practice – old documents, archaic terms and concepts, and colouring in plans. So why are property lawyers even interested in something as hi-tech and novel as Industry 4.0? Well, because an appreciation of what has happened in the past may give some guidance as to the future, and there is no doubt at all that each industrial revolution has impacted on the land, the landscape and the laws applicable to it.


Consequences for property lawyers

Industry 1.0
The Industrial Revolution
Mechanisation, water power and steam power

• Period factories (land sales and construction)
• Model towns (e.g. Saltaire, Bournville, Port Sunlight)
• The flight to the towns (and slums!) following the work (unemployed journeyman weavers spring to mind) and the mechanisation of agriculture leading to rural abandonment
• Water rights
• Mineral rights
• Mining (and subsidence)
• Canals and railways with statutory compulsory purchase by private act of parliament
• Liability for pollution
• Mortgages for working capital
• Boom (and bust!) 

Industry 2.0
The Second Industrial Revolution
Mass production, assembly lines, electrical power

• Suburbanisation (more development and restrictive covenants)
• Planning legislation
• Nationalisation and denationalisation of power, with vesting and transfers
• Clustering of industries
• Environmental legislation
• Road commuting
• New towns

Industry 3.0
The Digital Revolution
Computers and automation – human-designed, but less human physical input

• New factory styles
• Housing for employees required at higher levels, increasing housing pressure in areas and abandonment of old style manual worker housing in others

So what about Industry 4.0? Defined as “cyber-physical systems”, it will involve the Internet of Things, increased automation, production autonomy, the “Gemini site” (a digital representation of a site for digital-based testing of innovation outside of the physical realm) and a whole lot more that we don’t even know about yet. But we can, thinking of the history and geography trends above, have a go at some predictions. Here are five areas of possibility:

  1. Production sites do not need to be near people, as they will be fully automated (even their construction will involve fewer people). They can be near their supply lines, whether raw materials or components, and away from the risks of being next to humans. Existing industrial sites near centres of population will change use. Land values will be impacted, both for the sites for new production areas and those changing use. Planning and zoning will change.
  2. Shared working space for the knowledge economy people will still need to be near them. New forms of tenure will evolve, and new contracts for occupying space.
  3. Buildings will depreciate faster as their shelf life shortens. Old rules about buildings accruing to the land may have to change. Valuations and funding depend on the old rules, and our funding instruments do too. As the rules change, so will the documents – or maybe the changes in the documents will change the rules.
  4. 3D printing will bring small scale industrial production back into city centres. Handcrafted production will become high value, with small scale workshops and work/living units at a premium. 
  5. Infrastructure changes – Autonomous delivery vehicles will not need six lane highways. Private roads to out of town sites will be fully occupied with the logistics of supply. Power and information supply will be subject to massive backup and security, requiring novel ways of protection.

We all know that the jetcars and personal planes from the pictures of Dan Dare will probably never come to pass, but lots of other ideas in old science fiction have made their way into our lives today – HAL meets Alexa, anybody? So knowing the changes that three previous industrial revolutions have wrought, we can confidently expect things to be very different.

Published: 9 November 2017

Focus on Manufacturing - Edition 6

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Andrew J Wallis