Some misconceived notions take much longer than others to die and in the warehousing sector nowhere, perhaps, is that more glaring than in attitudes towards temporary storage structures. In Britain some 35 years ago, for example, temporary storage buildings, especially air domes and steel frame-supported fabric, were viewed with serious doubts while on the Continent their worth was far more appreciated, not only for huge cost savings but, more importantly, their adaptability. It is still much the same today, a view supported by Spaciotempo UK who says: “The reluctance is all about perception. Most people still think about our structures as ‘tents’ or ‘marquees’.

The reasons for investing in these structures vary. The need for them may be short or long-term, planned or unplanned, and adaptability, which is often more important than the big cost savings. So what’s on the market best suited to your needs and are there any troubling issues?

The range of options available varies from soft to hard, starting with quickly-erected, fabric air domes, through frame-supported fabric structures to prefabricated buildings assembled from wood, metal and composite panels. All types could last between 10 and 20 years. The cheapest, most adaptable of all structures is the air dome, in which the membrane is usually PVC-coated, flame retardant, polyester fabric supported by slight, fan-assisted air pressure. Their costs need only be 20% of most conventional buildings and the main necessity is good maintenance, that could deliver a 20-year life span. These structures, like those from Covair, are built with high winds and heavy snow loadings in mind but precautions must be taken to allow for deflection under strong winds, and usually a one-metre clearance between membrane and internal objects should be enough. Heating costs, however, will be higher than in conventional structures. They can be hired as well as bought and when not needed tidily folded away.

If you feel air domes are not for you then the next step up is the metal, frame-supported fabric structures. Obviously, costs and erection times are a little more than for air domes but still far below those of conventional buildings. How much less is very difficult to estimate because it depends on the size and specification of the building, but like for like a temporary building can provide a saving of about 35% on conventional buildings.

When one’s conventional warehouse has been destroyed the option is open to rent offsite warehousing via a 3PL but that would involve significant transport and handling costs to one’s factory. To obviate such a long-term cost the choice of a quick-build solid structure has its attractions. Made from various hard materials these semi-permanent, pre-fabricated buildings can be any size and are quickly erected on site at relatively low cost within 3-4 days and a lead time for getting the building on site of typically 2-3 weeks, says Aganto, a specialist in these building types. Aganto is keen to point out that these buildings are called ‘temporary’ because “they can be dismantled and relocated, not because they have a short life span.” They can also be hired to reduce any capital exposure. Their insulated versions include sandwich steel cladding with two vehicle access doors for chill stores.

Although temporary, all these building types require planning permission and are rateable. However, “it is very easy to obtain planning permission,” says John Brown, general manager of Purvis Structures. “Normally this can be achieved in 28 days but obviously this will depend on the council concerned and the rates charged will also vary with the time scales,” adds Mr Brown. Regarding rental, Purvis Structures recommends that if a proposed hire period exceeds 12 months the customer should choose purchase because it is a more viable option.