The planning minefield

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high-labour use classes, i.e. manufacturing. But, where we are most active in the Midlands and the South-east, unemployment is already low. Some of our logistics company clients already have to target groups such as non-working mothers available for shifts from 9am to 3pm.

Peterborough is a good example of planners who understood that B8 is a big employer and in an area where there is relatively high unemployment because of declining manufacturing. Happily, they welcomed our scheme. Conversely, there are some locations in the East Midlands whose planners are holding out for the kind of high-tech employers that normally choose either Oxford or Cambridge. I believe that, until they change their views, their B1/B2 sites will remain empty.

Among other easy misconceptions by planners is the myth that B8 generates unwanted traffic movement at peak times. Not true. If there is a traffic issue in an area, then B8 is a good choice because it relieves traffic at peak times due to the shift system implemented by the operators of these facilities.

Meanwhile, what we the developers want from the planning process is the ability to meet modern demand. North of the Watford Gap, companies want bigger and bigger buildings. Ten years ago, 9,300sq m (100,000sq ft) was big, five years ago 18,600sq m (200,000sq ft) was quite big, whereas today 69,750sq m (750,000sq ft) is not unusual.

There are not that many locations where we can create large-footprint buildings, and we believe there is an optimum size to how large these buildings will go.

There is a ceiling on staffing. One retailer told me recently that the limiting factors in his distribution operation is size of unit and number of people. He cannot employ more than 1,000 people on a single site as it gets too complicated. In addition, he has to start replicating ancillary facilities across the biggest buildings – canteen facilities, multi-faith rooms and Internet cafés – because the buildings are too big for staff to reach them in a single 15-minute break.

To ease our customers’ staffing issues, we are trying to get our buildings back into conurbations where the workforce can use public transport or “kiss-and-drop”, where the worker is dropped off by their partner at the start of a shift and picked up later, so the couple do not have to have more than one car.

The warehouse development industry has moved forward faster than public perception and much faster than the planning system. People are not confident about big buildings and they do not understand about employment levels. The planners use that public perception as a short-hand with which to make decisions that can affect the economic growth of their areas for decades to come.

More funding for planning departments and communities could reap the rewards in prosperity. Continue under the current system and the logistics industry will be hampered. The “restaurant” will close.

And, while life is already complicated enough for planners there has been a fundamental change in planning laws, which they have had to learn and understand. Growth corridor studies and local planning framework documents are replacing local plans and structure plans.

It’s a minefield for the planners. They are doing an enormously difficult job, understaffed and under-rewarded – and it is impacting on everything we are trying to achieve.

Paul Weston is vice president at ProLogis Developments. Tel: 0121 224 8700.

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