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Planning for the future: What does this mean for the Logistics Sector?

The logistics sector is an integral part of modern life, yet the Government’s White Paper ‘Planning for the future’ makes no reference to planning for logistics. So how does the Government propose we plan for this growing need in the future? Lucy Yates, Principal Planner, takes a look.

30 September 2020 | 5 min read
Lucy Yates

UK

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The distribution and logistics sector is an essential lifeline for the way businesses and consumers alike buy, sell and operate. For years we have seen a rise in online shopping and the growth of e-commerce businesses, but over recent months in particular this has never been more pronounced. As the country went in to lockdown online shopping shot up overnight; putting the country’s warehousing and distribution facilities to the test. Businesses who previously operated only in-store were forced to re-think quickly. Though lockdown has eased for now, we expect the consumer habits may be here to stay, meaning the existing high demand for logistics centres is only set to rise.

So where is the Logistics Sector in the White Paper?

The ‘Planning for the future’ White Paper sets out big plans for how the Planning system can be reformed to better serve modern-day society. Central to the Paper are a number of proposals to support the delivery of much needed housing and achieve the Government’s target of 300,000 new homes a year.

For example, the White Paper indicates that a binding housing requirement will be provided to each Local Planning Authority. This is a welcome move as agreeing an area’s housing requirement is often the biggest delay to Local Plan Adoption.

However, it isn’t clear if employment requirements are also going to be dictated in the same way; or how the Government is going to ensure the right amount of employment land is allocated to meet growing demands.

The methodology for employment need has never been clear cut and so it’s disappointing not to see it directly addressed in the White Paper. Especially as an increase in new homes will create a growing need for warehouse and distribution space to serve the residents. Residential and employment need come hand in hand, and yet one is notably absent in this White Paper.

Planning for large-scale logistics centres has never been an easy task as often one Local Planning Authority is asked to accommodate the warehousing and distribution needs of a region; or even the nation as a whole. The only mechanism in the current planning system to address cross-boundary strategic issues is the Duty to Cooperate, but the Government is proposing to remove this from the Planning system.

So while the White Paper outlines that Local Plans will allocate land for areas for growth, renewal and protection, it’s unclear how strategic land usessuch as regional and national warehousing and distribution facilitiesare going to be planned for.

These facilities have very specific locational requirements. At present the National Planning Policy Framework (paragraph 82) briefly touches upon these requirements and they are expanded on in the Planning Policy Guidance (PPG).

Strategic facilities serving national or regional markets are likely to require significant amounts of land, good access to strategic transport networks, sufficient power capacity and access to appropriately skilled local labour. Where a need for such facilities may exist, strategic policy-making authorities should collaborate with other authorities, infrastructure providers and other interests to identify the scale of need across the relevant market areas.” (Planning Policy Guidance, Paragraph: 031 Reference ID: 2a-031-20190722, Revision date: 22 07 2019).

It’s vital these locational requirements aren’t lost in the reform of the planning system.

The Logistics Sector has a huge role to play in helping us out of this recession, and this must be recognised in the future planning system.

Lucy Yates

Principal Planner

Against popular belief, warehousing and distribution centres are no longer just about the storage of products, they are complex supply chain industries which need to efficiently and effectively meet the demands of consumers. And importantly they provide a diverse range of employment opportunities, with a significant proportion being IT and engineering-based roles.

On 12th August 2020 it was announced that the UK is officially in a recession. As the government has reduced its funding into the furlough scheme, many people have been made redundant and it’s inevitable that unemployment figures will continue to rise over the coming months.

Whilst many industries have struggled through the pandemic, frozen recruitment and withdrawn their apprenticeships, the logistics sector has not. There will of course be no one quick fix to re-build the economy but the role the logistics sector can play in creating new jobs should not be under-estimated. Good planning and ensuring developments are built in the right places will be key to enable this.

What next?

The White Paper sets out the Government’s initial proposals for the reform of the planning system and now we have the opportunity to influence and have our say on the issues that must be considered. The White Paper Consultation is open until 29th October 2020.

Boris Johnson has announced his commitment to ‘Build Back Better’ so let’s ensure we are building the right type of developments to help us out of this recession. Yes, we need more housing to meet demand, however without jobs people will not want to invest in new homes. We need to ensure the Government treats the logistics sector with the importance it deserves.

If you have a question or would like to discuss how you can respond to the White Paper and help influence the reform of the planning system, please get in touch.