New London Architecture

Boomtime for logistics, but sites in short supply

Monday 27 September 2021

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

It’s boomtime for the industrial and logistics sectors, buoyed by a significant growth in movements of goods and services because of the COVID-19 epidemic. But problems over planning, a scarcity of available land and public perception of the buildings needed to keep London ticking need a concerted effort from the public and private sector alike.

Those were some of the key views to emerge from Logistics Latest: how is the industrial and logistics sector thriving? – a webinar held by NLA last week and kicked off by Prologis’ Martin Cooper. 

There were many common perceptions around industrial warehousing, said Cooper, but the sector was working hard with customers and communities to show that they ‘can be an important and sustainable contributor to the local national and global economy’. Last-mile logistics facilities also create jobs – working out as one for every 69m2 of floor space, which is important for a city like London with an unemployment rate of around 6.4%. For every £1bn spent by British consumers online, an additional 900,000 square foot of logistics space is needed, and the requirement is now far greater than pre-Covid, added Cooper. But in places like Japan, the scarcity of land problem has been tackled through going high, with multi-level facilities. Prologis has built one such facility in downtown Georgetown, Seattle, in the US. ‘The challenge is getting the vehicles up and out, but it’s entirely possible to do’.

Aukett Swanke’s Tom Alexander took the audience on a whistle-stop tour of the practice’s work in this area, including on hybrid and multi-level industrial solutions. But the firm has also been looking at schemes below ground with parks on top, and at big anchor stores in retail centres which are not working anymore with a view to adapting them as last mile solutions, as well as co-located schemes where housing is brought alongside industrial, for example.

Turley’s Catriona Fraser agreed that the uncertainties of Brexit and the pandemic had brought about a positive in an acceleration on innovation and tech in the industrial and logistics sector. ‘2020 witnessed a record-breaking take-up of industrial and logistics that involved a surge in online retailing with a shift from just-in-time supply to just in case supply’, she said. Industrial logistics ‘soared’ as a result and will make a big contribution to the UK’s green recovery. But issues remain: ‘What we really need is for planning and policy to catch up with this market need’, Fraser said, pointing to a scarcity of land, especially for ‘big box requirements’, last-mile logistics and planning policy that is prioritizing housing over industry. Developers, investors, operators and designers need to work with local planning authorities, Fraser added, to either ‘solidify’ allocations or create new ones for industrial logistical needs. The need is certainly strong – for every new home there is a demand for roughly 73 square feet of industrial warehousing, which equates to a requirement of 22 million square foot in one year, with colocation schemes providing one answer.

Points raised during question time included about car parks and the way in which reusing redundant structures could provide a boost if floor to ceiling heights issues can be resolved; the use of cargo bikes for last mile deliveries; the complexities of multi-level industrial; planning reforms and delays; drone deliveries, the views of local residents over noise and other concerns, and the need to overcome broad public perceptions on the sector.

Finally, Tom Alexander provided a neat phrase to summarise many of the issues facing this topic. ‘The infrastructure in London is changing through our demands for these spaces’, he said. ‘The tension is that London needs these spaces; but can we live with them?’

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David Taylor

Editor, NLQ and New London Weekly

Industrial & Logistics


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Aukett Swanke


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