Smart Transport

Freight and distribution logistics depots are losing out to affordable homes

Planners face pressure to make land available for residential use, while delivery companies are finding themselves on the periphery, reports Mark Smulian.

Mothercare, Thomas Cook and Bathstore are just a few of the high street staples to have vanished in recent times, leaving more empty shops.

There was better news for online traders according to the Office of National Statistics. It reported internet sales increased by 12.7% for the amount spent in July 2019 when compared with July 2018.

But everything sold online has to make its way to the customer and that means an increase in road traffic as vehicles ranging from heavy lorries to electric bicycles carry goods both from warehouses to local consolidation centres and then on the ‘last mile’ to customers.

Online retailers’ warehouses have tended to cluster on business parks in the Midlands, from which most of the UK is easily accessible.

Heavy goods vehicles from these business parks must then go somewhere so that loads can be broken for final deliveries.

A key question is where are such ‘somewheres’ – the urban logistics depots – to be sited?

Put them on the periphery of an urban area and they generate increased delivery traffic across the urban core; put them in the inner city and heavy lorries have to travel through already busy streets.

There is an emerging role for small electric vans and even bicycles for ‘last mile’ deliveries.

Since online retailers compete on how fast they can deliver to customers’ homes or business premises, the siting of an urban logistics depot and the types of vehicles that can operate from it become crucial.

Finding suitable sites within urban areas is difficult.

Land used for logistics – or any industrial use – will almost never be as valuable in pounds per sq.m. terms as for residential.

And with councils and their planners under pressure from the Government to provide more homes, they will always be tempted to designate sites for residential rather than industrial use, thus driving logistics depots further from those they serve and requiring longer road journeys.

In addition, councils will usually have a policy to reduce road congestion and air pollution.

Property firm Cushman & Wakefield has argued that because transport costs vastly outweigh property costs for last links, delivery firms might want to set up numerous depots to give a 30-minute travel time to all parts of an urban area.

That, though, brings them straight into competition with residential developers seeking land.

Richard Evans, Cushman & Wakefield head of UK logistics and industrial, says: “We need space for deliveries because of the exponential growth in dotcom shopping and that is not about to change. 

Cushman & Wakefield head of research logistics Lisa Graham thinks resistance among planners to allowing space for logistics depots comes from “negative perceptions, not only pressure from residential but that logistics is seen as associated with noise and air pollution. 

From a delivery firm’s perspective, Trevor Hoyle, Senior Vice President for Ground Operations Europe at FedEx, wants to see a change of approach to the planning process.

“We need to talk about how to design logistics into planning at an early stage, at the moment it seems more an afterthought,” he says.

James Harris, policy manager at the Royal Town Planning Institute, warns the Government’s pressure for more homes had made things worse for logistics in one significant way.

Not only is residential usually a more profitable use of a site – brownfield or greenfield – but also of existing buildings.

One possible solution is that the shops left empty on high streets as conventional retail retreats could be converted into logistics centres, since they tend to be in locations that are conveniently near to local residents.

Read the full article on freight and distribution logistics depots are losing out to affordable homes from the Smart Transport Journal


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