National Infrastructure Commission Concerned at ‘Freight Sprawl’

NIC interim report on freight

The forgotten element of spatial planning
Growing demand for faster, cheaper, and more convenient deliveries means planning for freight is ever more important. Delivery of new houses naturally remains the priority for local areas. Yet, whilst certain essential services required for balanced and sustainable communities – such as schools and medical centres – are planned for, freight is overlooked. National policy for planning and development has only two references to freight, and local authorities rarely have the resources or expertise to properly consider freight in their areas….

An absolute focus on increasing the supply of homes comes at the expense of a sustainable balance of land uses and supporting infrastructure. Gaps in planning
policy and guidance give planners little understanding of why and how to plan for freight, leaving the needs of the freight system far down the priority list. Over time, a lack of holistic, freight-aware decisions will erode the capacity of the freight system to deliver the goods that communities and businesses want and need in the most sustainable way possible.
The current approach to planning can mean that freight is forgotten in plans for new developments and, even where it is considered, it is not a holistic assessment. Often plans for new developments only reflect consideration of the final delivery of goods,
neglecting the fact that this is the result of the successful functioning of a whole supply chain, finely tuned and optimised, often spanning borough, county, and even national boundaries…

Sufficient storage and distribution capacity is needed for the freight system to work efficiently. There is evidence to show that there is an increasingly limited supply of land for storage and distribution operations in key markets, particularly the land required for last mile logistics in London. A recent report for the Greater London Authority (GLA) stated that there is a rapidly dwindling supply of warehousing space
in London, and that the present vacancy rate is four per cent,53 “by far the lowest rate of any region of the country.”54
Last mile logistics providers, such as parcel carriers or retailers and producers, need to be able to serve customers in urban areas quickly, often within short delivery windows. Providers therefore need space for final distribution operations in areas where their drive time to the end destination is minimal. In some places
the periphery of the urban area will do, but in London, and other large and densely developed towns and cities, a short drive time to customers means a need for space inside the urban area.
Demand for such space has increased at the same time as the supply has been actively reduced. A recent upsurge in demand for last mile logistics space in London (triggered by population growth, increasing e-commerce activity, and demand for faster delivery times and shorter delivery windows) has coincided with a period of the release of industrial land for non-industrial land uses – most often housing. This
was facilitated by a succession of pro-release policies in London planning policy. The limited supply of affordable, suitable premises in central locations means that logistics providers need to look further afield for the right solution. Some commentators have referred to this trend as ‘logistics sprawl’55 56 – logistics providers can no longer find affordable premises in central London and so ‘sprawl’ further and further from the centre, and then out of the city altogether. This increases a providers’ stem mileage (the distance from the distribution point to the first delivery address) – wasting a larger proportion of the journey distance, with knock-on effects for emissions, congestion, and operational efficiency.

One thought on “National Infrastructure Commission Concerned at ‘Freight Sprawl’

  1. Thanks for this, Andrew. It is of great concern to us in London. It comes up at the EiP on the London Plan
    Tue 19 Mar
    Land for industry, logistics and services [M62]
    Freight, deliveries, servicing and construction [M63]

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