Home truths for logistics
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, the importance of an efficient logistics network has been brought into stark relief. Delivery drivers have been classed as ‘key workers’, charged with keeping the country running, ensuring the NHS receives its vital supplies, vulnerable people are provided with essential goods and retailers and manufacturers get their just-in time supplies to keep operating.
However, as we approach what is typically one of the busiest periods of the year for retailers and logistics operators, an ongoing failure to recognise how logistics and residential development go hand-in-hand could present major challenges to the sector’s progress and dent consumer confidence. An undersupply of warehousing in high-population areas such as London and the Midlands is threatening important supply chains and piling pressure on online retailers and logistics operators struggling to site last-mile distribution hubs to meet consumer demand for cost-effective and speedy same-day delivery.
As architects and masterplanners we are delighted to see government place an increased focus on the built environment as a vital driver for the UK economy, but the current build, build, build mantra leaves little breathing space for planning strategically or, to coin a phrase, to “build back better.” The government’s recent planning white paper, Planning for the Future, makes no mention whatsoever of logistics in its 84 pages, instead primarily focusing on residential development. We fear that this de facto presumption in favour of housing will see employment land and spaces for vital services and amenities, such as shops, public transport and logistics, squeezed out at a time when they are critical to creating truly sustainable places.
As the UK population continues to grow, it is clear we need more new homes. But it is equally clear that we need a far more holistic approach to the way we masterplan, design and deliver the solutions; an approach that takes into account population and technology changes, shifting consumer habits and cultural trends to enable the sustainable development of residential, commercial and industrial space.
The time is therefore absolutely right for government, local authorities and the planning regime to take a fresh look at this vital sector and to understand that housing and logistics can mix. If we don’t start making the right planning decisions now, we are in danger of locking in unsustainable development that will create unnecessary supply chain disruption and poorly serve communities for decades to come.