Green industry, sustainable communities – how the logistics sector can unlock both

Andrew Pexton

Regional Director – North West

At the end of last year, I shared my thoughts on the booming logistics sector and the transformational power it holds in the north west of England and the country as a whole.

With economic growth and net zero at the top of the national agenda, I want to turn to look at how logistics can support the growth of new, green industries – while in tandem helping to drive sustainable growth closer to home, in local communities.

Demand for industrial and logistics space is ever-growing. The big question is, how do we meet this in a sustainable way?

Land is a finite resource, and nowhere is this clearer than in the UK. The North West in particular is a brownfield hotspot but surrounded by protected green belt land – so we need to take smart and targeted decisions about what we build and where. This has been at the heart of the debate surrounding Greater Manchester’s Places for Everyone plan.

There is rightly a massive focus on new housebuilding, particularly in areas where demand is consistently outstripping supply. And I can understand why, if we are to release green belt land for development, many feel this should be for the purpose of creating new homes.

But we also need to see an increase in the delivery of logistics space. We’ve seen a significant loss of industrial floorspace in the last few years, with Greater Manchester alone losing up to 20 per cent of its supply.

There are innovations happening – just recently, an article in Architect’s Journal highlighted how emerging solutions like multi-level industrial units can help overcome the challenge of constrained land. These kinds of advances are the future of our sector.

There’s a need for ramped up development of logistics space to keep up with requirement from new and growing green industries like electric vehicle manufacturing and battery energy storage. How can we support these industries to grow if we haven’t got the space to house them?

At the same time, we need to ensure this development helps local communities too.

One of the ways industrial and logistics development does this is by ‘regreening’ environments, creating socioeconomic benefits.

Brownfield sites can be contaminated in many different ways, from the soil to the groundwater, with a risk that they can be left derelict and abandoned for years. Projects like Logistics North – where Harworth has transformed the former Cutacre surface mine into over three million square feet of commercial space – help to bring these areas back to life, for the benefit of local communities.

At Harworth we take a long-term view of sustainability, from remediation through to delivery and operation. By taking a whole life approach to materials use, integrating biodiversity throughout our masterplans, and prioritising energy efficiency, brownfield regeneration can actually support redemption of the environment.

Yet for industrial development to be truly sustainable, we also need to think about how it links with other sectors to create wider benefits – namely housing.

The co-location of industrial and residential communities can go a long way to promoting sustainability within neighbourhoods, reducing car dependency and making sure new jobs and wealth creation stay local.

The property industry needs to do a better job of showcasing these benefits and the role of logistics in creating this sustainable growth. It might be easier to get consent for logistics schemes which are well removed from residential areas, but these sites are often less connected, and less appealing to occupiers.

Of course accounting for local concerns is crucial, but I think there’s a bit of a misconception around this. Generally speaking we find that the communities we work in are eager to see good job growth and new investment near to the places they live. Many see the benefits that logistics development would bring to their local areas.

Ultimately I think commercial and housing development have got to seen as symbiotic, but integrating commercial and residential developments is just one piece of the puzzle.

The growth of the logistics sector relies on us to be forward thinking in the ways we deliver spaces. it also relies on us telling a better story of how we can drive sustainable growth of green sectors and for local communities.