Whilst we were not expecting the announcement of major planning reform in the Government’s ‘A Plan for Jobs’, it is not unprecedented for planning changes to form part of the UK Government’s economic stimulus packages. There has been much speculation in recent weeks about what those reforms could and should be, and we await with interest the Planning Policy Paper later this month.
After the financial crash, reforms tended to focus on housing – a sector that is easily understood by the voting public and makes good headlines.
Indeed, the Chancellor made reference to housing as one of the most important sectors for job creation, emphasising that house building alone supports nearly three quarter of a million jobs in the construction sector.
Logistics has too often been side-lined and yet it is a cornerstone of the economy. It is a sector that last year contributed £124 billion (Gross Value Added) to the economy, and directly supported almost 1 million employees. Nothing gets built or made without logistics, businesses of all sectors require stock and supplies.
Lockdown has helped to highlight the sector’s importance. Supply chains, particularly for food and essential medical equipment, have come under enormous pressure and, with all but a few non-essential shops closed until recently, the country has relied on online retail.
The sector responded rapidly to the challenges, adapting processes to safely meet the spikes in demand. Data shows that online shopping reached levels it was not forecast to hit until 2030.
Logistics is also an integral component of the manufacturing sector and underpins a significant sector of the construction industry during development. Unlike the housing sector, logistics also creates substantial employment opportunities post-development.
Delivery drivers have rightly been hailed as key workers, but the crisis has also highlighted the complexity, skill and innovation that is inherent in the industry. Logistics is a sophisticated operation and, with increasing automation and use of robotics, it’s also high tech.
While the need to recognise the industry’s importance is not new, it feels like now is a prime opportunity to get it the support that it needs as part of our national infrastructure. And that isn’t support in the sense of financial aid – the industry doesn’t need to get back on its feet – but support from the planning system. It needs land – in the right locations – and a quicker route to planning so that it can support business and feed the economic machine.
At the moment it can easily take three to five years to bring a site through the planning process – with a fair wind, significantly longer without. That timeframe just doesn’t fit with maximising economic recovery and capitalising on a strong sector now.
Recently DPD made headlines by announcing that it will be creating 6,000 new jobs as part of a £200m investment into next day delivery to meet the rise in online retail demand. We’re currently working with the 3PL on the development of a new net-zero carbon in construction 60,000 sq ft parcel hub at Symmetry Park, Bicester.
The British Property Federation has been campaigning hard since before the pandemic to get the importance of the sector recognised and to make developing logistics space easier. And that campaign will continue to be backed by Tritax Symmetry and other leaders in the industry.
Recently the Department for Transport published a position statement on last-mile logistics based on research by the Science Advisory Council which recommended that logistics is recognised “as a more significant element of national infrastructure”. It is an encouraging sign and a step in the right direction.
In the meantime, we have some fairly modest asks, that chime with the BPF’s campaign, that would aid our ability to deliver space for the logistics industry:
Ministerial Statement to elevate the need to plan for logistics
A Ministerial Statement outlining the importance of logistics and the need for councils to adequately plan for it now would provide a clear message that should positively inform planning decisions and demonstrate the Government’s commitment to supporting the sector to play its full part in the economic recovery.
Granular zonal planning
There is speculation that planning could become zonal, but the question is how granular that gets? We would support wider planning reforms that use a criteria-based policy giving a ‘presumption in favour’ of logistics development where key criteria are met, such as easy access and proximity to the strategic highway network, and where there would be no unacceptable impacts on residential amenity.
A holistic approach to infrastructure planning
Logistics sites, by nature of their scale, tend to be burdened with solving existing infrastructure problems. If there was a holistic approach looking at a broad range of factors, including funding, there could be longer-term benefits to the surrounding communities, rather than simply mitigating site-specific impacts.
Given the role that logistics plays in the economy and the strength of the sector, it is more critical than ever that it is recognised and supported through the planning process now – to create jobs during construction and operation, investment and delivery of infrastructure, and the generation of business rates.