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The logic of logistics

6th August 2019

Do we need more logistics and warehousing space in Kent and Medway to serve the area’s growing population? DHA director Matthew Blythin examines the planning case.

With increasing pressure to build more housing to meet the needs of a growing population, there is also the requirement to ensure sustainable development is delivered that underpins the nation’s economy. That places employment space high on the agenda.

National need?

In a timely move, the British Property Federation (BPF) recently published a report that examines the relationship between new housing and warehousing across England.

The ‘What Warehousing Where’ report identified there is currently 69 sq ft of warehouse floorspace per home in England. To maintain this ratio and match the Government’s target of 300,000 new homes a year, it is going to require 20.6 million ft2 of new warehouse floorspace each year.

Local demand

Extrapolating those figures to what it might mean for Kent and Medway where Kent County Council estimates that 178,600 new homes will be built by 2031 makes for interesting reading.

If the BPF calculation is correct – at 69 sq ft of warehouse floorspace per home in England – that will potentially require an additional 12.3 million ft2 of warehousing space by 2031 to serve these new homes.  Whilst a crude calculation, it does illustrate the issue well.

Given the scale of the apparent demand, and the likelihood that there might be more space required to meet the growing demand for ‘last mile’ deliveries to satisfy our love of online shopping, the question has to be: how does the planning system deliver the floorspace that’s needed?

Policy support

Economic development policy has arguably too often only focused on securing high value employment, in the form of offices rather than logistics and warehousing.

Wrongly, warehousing and industry can be perceived as low-skill development or not offering the right number of jobs per hectare.

Distribution and logistics aren’t just about building big sheds with lots of boxes and few people employed. Today it can provide a broad mix of job types from well-paid office and design jobs to drivers and warehouse operatives. It’s essential that planning delivers a range of jobs for all, to deliver truly sustainable development and it is imperative that this is recognised at the plan-making stage.

The real value of a strong logistics sector stretches beyond the warehouses’ gates. Without logistics-led development it is very difficult for manufacturers to be efficient, forcing many existing businesses to look for alternative locations with stronger supply chains.

Industry is key to a sustainable economy and planning must recognise and meet business’s needs in terms of the supply of new premises in appropriate locations, but also allowing for the prospect of expansion and adaptation to meet increased automation.

The local challenge

The need for logistics is even more acute in the South East where there is competition from other regions who offer lower costs and better site availability. Combine this with high land values and it can often be a challenge to make a commercial development stack up financially, especially when compared to developing the land for housing.

Get it right and we can build strong local firms and employment. A multi-million pound investment by Firmins and Berry Gardens in a new packhouse and distribution centre in Maidstone is an excellent case in point, helping sustain local jobs and supporting an important local industry – the soft and top fruit sector synonymous with Kent.

Ultimately if industry’s needs aren’t met, local firms won’t reach their full potential or, worse still, will relocate elsewhere.

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