Logistics: over and above
In our recent Property Week article we argued that logistics should be treated as essential infrastructure in areas of urban expansion to meet the growth of online retail and consumer demand. Urban logistics, we argued, would ensure minimal impact to the local environment and greater supply-chain efficiencies for local communities and businesses.
It has to be added, however, that whilst consumers now expect cost-effective and speedy same-day delivery, they may not be so keen on the idea of living near a logistics park. Tackling the perception that residential and logistics do not mix is a key design challenge.
Considering scale in the design of inner-city logistics will make them more appropriate for residential developments and easier to integrate into mixed and multi-use masterplans. Supplied by parcel centres on periphery sites, small-scale micro hubs can consolidate uses, such as click-and-collect or fulfilment centres, reducing the requirement for height as goods will not be stored for long periods. A switch by logistics operators in urban locations to lightweight commercial vehicles would limit the requirement for generous yard space, whilst also mitigating environmental issues such as noise and air quality. Smaller scale logistics would also reduce the perceived need to provide expensive and land-hungry mitigation measures such as landscaping and bunding.
Nonetheless, land in urban locations will inevitably be expensive. A single, small-scale logistics facility will not always be the most cost-effective use of land, particularly in areas of high demand such as London and the South East. The advantage of small-scale urban logistics facilities is that they give you space to build above, maximising the value of the site for landowners, developers and landlords. Rather than thinking about logistics sitting side by side with residential, particularly in space-constrained inner-city sites, we need to start thinking about these buildings being multi-layered, with office space, PRS housing or student accommodation sitting above ground-floor urban logistics facilities.
There are, of course, other hurdles for the industry to overcome if we are to make this multi-use, multi-layered approach work – not least will be the ability of different funding parties to work together in joint venture and with different funding streams for each use element.
The other major hurdle is, of course, ensuring that there is an allocation of employment land close to or within areas of residential expansion, such as in London or the cities of the Northern Powerhouse. This can be done via the call for sites and LDF process. Local Authority land is also available and the ‘One Public Estate’ programme will assist in identifying the best use of sites in these portfolios.
At Stephen George + Partners we’ve already had major success in delivering logistics adjacent to residential where understanding residents’ concerns and addressing them with design solutions enabled us to deliver our clients’, stakeholders’ and the market’s aspirations. However, we need to work with local authorities, not only to advise them on the importance of logistics to employment and the economy, but also on the demands of the 21st century consumer.