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19th July 2021

The planning policy imperative for logistics

When a Secretary of State decision goes in your favour there is a temptation to highlight the whole decision letter. In the recent Tritax Symmetry decision at Wigan, within the M6 “sweet-spot” this is certainly the case. In this latest blog, Tim Partridge, planning consultant at Tritax Symmetry explains that there are quite a few nuggets to take away supporting logistics development generally as well as the specific merits of the site. He also explains that as the site is within the Green Belt there is also some joy from the SoS stance on weight to be attached to Green Belt harm and countervailing considerations.

The SoS granted consent after calling in the application for 27,871sqm in full and 106,095sqm in outline for logistics development. The Development Plan was the 2013 Wigan Core Strategy and saved policies from 2006 UDP. The SoS attached no weight to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework as this is not progressing with the withdrawal of Stockport.  However, it was found the evidence underpinning the GMSF was a material consideration.

In respect of Green Belt, it was agreed the development was inappropriate development. It was found the scale of development, with a height of 23m, would substantially erode the spatial openness of the Green Belt but the harm would be localised and moderate and structural landscaping would mitigate the impact in the medium-long term. The development would undeniably erode elements of the open space between settlements but the separate identities of the settlements would be safeguarded and remain distinguishable from one another. The undeniable encroachment onto the countryside would be moderate. There would be no harm to the purpose of assisting urban regeneration as there were no alternative sites in the Borough that could accommodate the proposed development and there were no derelict or urban sites whose regeneration would be frustrated by the proposed development.

In respect of need for employment land the SoS found “an evident and compelling planning policy imperative for high-quality logistics floorspace regionally, sub-regionally and locally”. The lack of employment land was likely to result in valuable investment flowing into adjacent authorities to the detriment of local residents and existing businesses wishing to expand would continue to leave to find more suitable premises. It was material the site is available now and can be delivered relatively quickly to address known commercial and policy needs.

The development would deliver a range of socio-economic benefits which carry significant weight in the Borough. Those benefits included;

  • A construction expenditure of £72.7m, creating over a thousand construction jobs;
  • The creation of 1,200-1,410 operational jobs with mechanisms in place to ensure these are available to local people.
  • Business rates of circa £3m per annum;
  • £50-60m GVA, and
  • Support for local businesses.

The SoS gave very substantial weight to the delivery of upto 133,966sqm of high-quality logistics floorspace. The proposal would address “the very specific locational requirements of the logistics sector and make provision for storage and distribution operations at an appropriate scale.”

The SoS agreed the proposal would “deliver a substantial range of tangible economic benefits including well paid jobs for local people” and would boost the local economy.

The Inspectors recognised a highly active logistics sector fueled by the rise of e-commerce which has expanded substantially in recent years and which is likely to account for 35% of the market by the end of 2020. The Inspectors recognised that demand for logistics floorspace is focused on the motorway corridors and  good access to multi-modal supply chain facilities, such as depots, ports and airports.

The Inspectors felt the impact of Brexit would be an uplift in demand for logistics given the severance of warehousing and distribution facilities that previously served all of Europe. Whilst this Inquiry didn’t assess the effects of Covid an earlier Inquiry, discussed below, heard by the same Inspectors did acknowledge the accelerated role of logistics as a result of Covid.

In a separate decision in Wingates, Bolton, for logistics development, also called in by the SoS and also in the Green Belt, the SoS again agreed with his Inspectors and granted planning permission for 100,00sqm of logistics. The same two Inspectors also heard the Wigan Inquiry.

The highlights from the Secretary of State are;

  • there is persuasive evidence that a substantial planning need exists for major logistics and associated industrial development of the kind proposed in this application.
  • the broad evidence of need for the type of employment land represented by the application site is material to the consideration of this application.
  • while approval of the present application would produce a numerical exceedance of the quantum of employment development allocated; such development plan provisions are not to be regarded as ceilings to development
  • there is evidence of unfulfilled enquiries for development of the kind proposed
  • the evident need for development of the type proposed carries substantial weight in the planning balance.
  • the proposed development would contribute substantially to the national policy imperative, to promote and support a strong competitive economy, as particularly with regard to the need for storage and distribution facilities, at a variety of scales, in accessible locations.
  • the development would contribute substantially to the supply of employment land evidently necessary to the economic recovery and well-being of Bolton.
  • the absence of any alternative sites of sufficient size and accessibility
  • the development would directly and indirectly generate up to 2,500 jobs and other economic benefits in an area of severe economic deprivation and unemployment, encouraging business commitment and creating opportunities for enhancement of skills among the workforce.
  • agrees that that the economic benefits carry very substantial weight in the planning balance.
  • the evident need for development of the type proposed carries substantial weight, and the economic benefits of the proposal carry very substantial weight in favour of the scheme.
  • considers that the economic and other benefits of the proposal are collectively sufficient to outweigh the harm to the Green Belt and to the landscape such that very special circumstances exist to justify permitting the development.

The Inspectors found

  • Information from the British Property Foundation (BPF) confirms a widely held view that rapid growth being experienced in the logistics sector of the UK has been due to structural changes to high street retailing and a commensurate growth in e-commerce. This shift has been accelerated by the ongoing Covid19 pandemic restrictions on personal movement.
  • There is extensive market evidence of robust growth in the warehousing and logistics sector of the economy of the North West, with a strong and rapidly expanding need for large-scale storage and distribution and industrial units of the kind proposed in this case. The trend is for buildings of some 34,000sqm on average, an increase in size of over 40% since 2007.
  • The warehousing and logistics sector has proved resilient in the current pandemic. It is therefore to be expected that this sector will be instrumental in the post-pandemic recovery of the wider UK economy. In the North West, including Greater Manchester, new logistics development will not only play a part in its own right but serve as an enabler to other business sectors.

Recognised benefits

  • The development would contribute substantially to the supply of employment land evidently necessary to the economic recovery and well-being of Bolton, especially following the Covid19 pandemic.
  • The development would directly and indirectly generate up 2,500 jobs and some £157 million GVA annually, together with £3 million in business rates, in an area of severe economic deprivation and unemployment, encouraging business commitment and creating opportunities for enhancement of skills among the workforce.

 

 

 

 

 

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