The delivery of warehouse space has been seen as the poor relation of housing, retail and other forms of employment generating development. This isn’t – and shouldn’t - be the case, argues Shoosmiths joint national head of planning Kathryn Jump.
The reputation of warehouse space has been made evident by the terminology – we used to build “sheds”, we now deliver “logistic hubs”. However, I believe that warehousing has become the new darling of the development world and there are a number of things that need to be done to ensure that we have a logistics network in this country which is fit for the 21st century.
The current pressures on logistics space are self-evident to us all. The coronavirus pandemic has increased online sales by 30% (and this figure does not include the increase growth in sales for Amazon and the supermarkets) and brought into sharp focus the weaknesses in our supply chains and the over-reliance on imports from abroad.
This increased pressure on the system has highlighted the stresses that already existed in the sector pre-Covid, and the limitations on existing land that are available for warehouse development – 100,000 acres of land are currently in the system across the country but many of these sites are not big enough to accommodate the large square footage requirements of the major logistics operators. In addition, demand for the available large sites is out-stripping supply with new sites struggling to navigate through the planning process. This is evidenced by the call-in of four major logistics developments in the North West, all of which secured planning support from their local planning authority but which have been called in by the MHCLG due to objections received from local residents. The call-ins, and subsequent public inquiries into the planning applications, will add a year at least to the start of construction on these schemes.
The demands on the logistics sector are only going to intensify with a recent study suggesting that every 300,000 new homes built creates the demand for an additional 20 million sq ft of industrial space.
So, what are the next steps for the delivery of logistics development? I do not think the solutions are rocket science. Neither are they unfamiliar to those in the wider planning world, and it has to be hoped that all of these issues will be picked up in the PM’s proposed “radical” and imminent reforms of the planning system.
The reforms to the planning system that would particularly speed up the delivery of new logistics space in my view are:
- Finally addressing the long running issue of local authorities failing to keep their local plans up-to-date. This does not need any radical reform to the current system but a significant and prolonged period of improved resourcing to improve staff levels and retention, and fund better and on-going Member training;
- The allocation of sufficient sites to meet the existing and anticipated demand for both national, regional and local warehousing and depot space. This may well require the allocation of sites in the greenbelt, but I do not believe that the required growth in the logistics sector (as well as growth in the residential sector to meet the on-going housing crisis) can be achieved without officers, members and local communities being willing to take the brave step of reviewing existing greenbelt boundaries;
- Amending the National Planning Policy Framework to introduce a presumption in favour of logistics development; and
- modernising the Use Class Order to allow greater flex in the use of buildings to meet the ever-changing demands of the market.
The opportunity is now to make these changes so that we can create and develop a robust logistics network in this country that is fit for the post COVID-19 world, that not only meets the needs of the present but is also prepared to tackle whatever the future may bring for us all.