In a recent planning appeal, a commercial storage and distribution warehouse in Nottinghamshire was granted planning permission despite the fact that the local development plan did not allow for such uses in that area.
The Inspector in this case found that there would be significant economic and social benefits in building the warehouse and that these outweighed any harm to the landscape or agricultural land. This decision reminds us that, despite the criticism it often receives, the planning system can be flexible, and where benefits are identified, can result in departures from local plans, if that can be shown to be justified.
Clearly, decisions like this are useful, not only because of the direct benefits of these types of developments but also given that the industrial and logistics market is seemingly undersupplied - we saw record low vacancy rates for large units in 2022. It shows there is a route to meet this demand, even where local planning policy fails to reflect the increase in need.
Certainly, it is not hard to see why the Inspector found there were significant benefits. Not only do these types of developments generate jobs at the local level, which in turn often sparks investment in local infrastructure and amenities as people move to work, but they also create jobs across the supply chain - from those working at the ports and airports right through to those delivering goods to the end customer. In fact, a recent report found that there are 3.8 million jobs in the sector in England alone.
This boost to the workforce also has a role to play in the Government’s Levelling-up agenda as these sites are needed right across the UK. In reality, it is no longer the case that we can rely on huge industrial and warehouse sites in the middle of nowhere. Consumers want their products delivered quickly and for flexible delivery options. This requires distribution centres closer to home.
We have seen this change in demand reflected in the increased reliance on last mile logistics which also have an important role to play in reducing our carbon footprint. Indeed, a logistics centre in, or right on the edge of, a town can utilise more efficient forms of transport for their deliveries including bikes and e-scooters, reducing the site’s operational carbon. Rapidly changing technology may also see new and innovative delivery options coming to these more localised distribution centres, whether it be by drones or automated vehicles. These distribution centres can also make use of optimised routes to increase efficiency and smaller more efficient distribution vehicles (which are also less likely to fall foul of emissions targets or policies such as ULEZ).
As seen in this decision, local development plans don’t yet always allocate the right areas for logistics uses. Whilst this seems to be changing, it’s not just local plans that need to be considered. Looking at the bigger picture, the Use Classes Order leaves much to be desired when it comes to logistics. For example, the new class E includes a subsection for any industrial processes which can be carried out “without detriment to the amenity of that area” but it’s unclear how that aligns with class B8 “storage and distribution” or what use class a development falls in when a warehouse is combined with shops or offices. In a sector that continues to be both undersupplied and in demand, the planning system will play a key role in supporting its growth.
An earlier version of this article appeared in React News.
Authored by Rosie Shields and Edward Newport.