The fundamentals of logistics real estate make it among the hottest asset classes for investment. However, from the perspective of a planner, it is often not quite as high on the agenda.

Sophie Watkin

Sophie Watkin

Both on a local and a national level, the focus tends to remain on housing growth. By contrast, the industrial sector still suffers from misguided views that it provides fewer jobs and that warehouses aren’t environmentally friendly. While perceptions are changing and logistics has risen up the planners’ agenda, it’s not nearly as high as it should be. It can take great creativity and a strong understanding of local communities to secure sites and get planning permission.

Yet new grade-A logistics assets are vital for our economic growth and can make a positive contribution from a societal and environmental perspective. They create roles at a range of levels of skill and experience; they are economic stimulators; and the best industrial assets can be designed in such an energy-efficient way that you may prefer to live in one than in a typical Victorian terraced house.

A large part of the struggle for logistics developers is that council planning departments are chronically under-resourced. Meanwhile, the speed at which technology and best practices evolve far outpaces that of local authorities’ ability to update their policies and perspectives.

Another reason is the disconnect between private and public sectors on the environmental, social and governance (ESG) benefits of industrial schemes. That partly requires us, as developers, to be more collaborative and to ensure we are fully engaging with communities, and equally requires a more flexible approach on the part of local authorities.

One problem is the language we’ve used. I’ve worked on the developer side for five years and in that time, I’ve never been asked by a local authority about ESG in an application or in conversation. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about ESG; it’s simply that too often the private and public sectors use different vocabularies, with great similarities between the objectives of ESG and the National Planning Policy Framework when it comes to sustainable development.

Sophie Watkin is UK planning director at Trammell Crow Company