The future of logistics has arrived

04 Nov 20

Logistics facilities provide the opportunity for significant investment and job creation in sustainable locations at a time when significant weight should be given to supporting economic recovery. They are a key element in the functioning of the new economic reality and need to be supported through the planning process.

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The structural changes to the way we shop and the rise of e-commerce have been accelerated throughout the course of 2020. In the first half of the year, for the first time, over 30% of British retail sales were online. This in turn is driving significant demand for logistics space, with availability at an all-time low in many areas.

Alongside the traditional large out-of-town warehouse units, this increasing demand is driving the growth of new, central urban facilities to provide ‘last mile’ delivery services to people’s front doors. These sites by their very nature need to be located alongside the residents they serve, and developers are finding new uses for redundant ground floor commercial space, outdated industrial units and other ‘leftover’ land such as beneath railway arches.

The location of these sites in central locations may raise questions about the potential impacts on residential amenity and the local highways network. However, these are not ‘sheds’ as we know them. The new generation of last mile logistics facility is a highly sustainable, smaller-scale building designed to promote the wellbeing of staff and to be a good neighbour. They are generally served by electric vehicles, bicycles and e-scooters, within specified 1-hour delivery windows. Delivery firms such as DPD are introducing all-electric fleets to boost sustainability and respond to expanded ultra-low emission zones (see for example DPD’s Westminster micro-depot).

The changing nature of logistics brings new challenges, such as the provision of sufficient charging stations and power infrastructure. They also require a shift in the way we understand logistics facilities, and their compatibility with central urban locations. However, they also provide the opportunity for significant investment and job creation in sustainable locations at a time when significant weight should be given to supporting economic recovery. They are a key element in the functioning of the new economic reality and need to be supported through the planning process.

The Government’s recent attempts to provide additional flexibility and speed up the planning process are welcomed in this regard, but we wait to see whether more specific measures are introduced alongside the new Class E to reflect the changing nature of urban logistics. The planning system needs to recognise and promote the suitability and importance of such facilities in sustainable, central locations. And it needs to enable proposals to come forward quickly, supporting businesses that rely on rapid delivery.

Stuart Mills Associate,Planning