19 November, 2023 - 14:33

Planning for industrial strength

Eddisons’ Planning Director, Kate Wood, makes the case for a cultural & policy reality check when it comes to employment land allocations in the region.

Some local authorities in the region have recently undertaken a ‘call for sites’ exercise as the first step on their new local plan process. The life span of a local plan and, thereby, its land use allocations, can be anything from 15-20 years.

Considering how quickly the world of work has changed since the Covid-19 years, the forecasting challenge in allocating employment land for the operational life of a local plan is evident.

The process of compiling and adopting a local plan is complex, informed, as it is, by data modelling and also stakeholder lobbying - not the least of whom is the local population.

Planners in commercial practice will, at any one time, be challenging a local plan on behalf of clients. That may be at plan-making stage, to demonstrate the need for particular types of development, or at application stage to demonstrate that a local plan might be out of date or that national policy, or other relevant circumstances have moved on.

Challenging adopted policy on a case-by-case basis is costly and time consuming for all parties and, in an ideal world, should be unnecessary. 

A seminar this autumn, organised by the Cambridgeshire Development Forum - where one of our Cambridge-based agents shared the platform with agency peers, industrial business owners & policymakers - set out to make the case for more industrial employment space in the region.

There was agreement on the chronic undersupply of industrial units in the Greater Cambridgeshire area alone. This was not news to the business operators, developers & property professionals in the room.

However, what was noteworthy was the broad acknowledgment that many policymakers and, in turn, the general public needed a greater understanding of the sophistication and definition of the modern industrial sector.

Times have moved on from the prevailing cultural understanding of what is meant by the ‘industrial sector’. More so, arguably, in areas of the country where, historically, there hasn’t been a manufacturing industry legacy that shaped the local landscape and employment opportunities, nor the late 20th Century’s focus on office space.

Warehouses & distribution centres are a case in point. In recent years, modern warehouses have been in demand on a larger scale and in nationally - and even internationally - accessible locations. In our region, those are locations along major transport routes such as the M11, A1(M) & A14 corridors.

Far from the ‘dark satanic mills’ portrayal of large scale industrial uses, supply chain logistics is a highly developed area of modern commerce and one where, increasingly, robotics feature.

These ‘big sheds’ have dominated - and filled - much of the generic employment land allocations in the local plans of the Eastern & East Midlands authority areas during the past decade, which authorities probably assumed would be occupied by SMEs.

This has left SME industrial operators, whether in the more established engineering & manufacturing fields or the new emerging technologies, with property requirements that aren’t easily met from historic local plan allocations of employment land – either in terms of allocation or availability.
We should realise that existing stock dating from the 1980s is going to be half a century old by the 2030s.

Developers working with the sector’s SME operators are left making the case for new, exception sites to satisfy the needs of both new and existing operators who are growing out of older or restricted space.

Many of the new technology industrial operators are looking for a high standard of property, not just the clean room, laboratory level of the more obvious life science businesses for which, in particular, the Cambridge area is an exemplar, but also buildings designed for efficiency of use.

Today’s industrial operators offer high value, highly skilled employment opportunities and, as such, have high quality, often bespoke property requirements.

The ongoing needs of this sector is going to have to be planned for if we are to fulfil the potential of our industrial strength and realise the job growth opportunities that will be vital for our economy and cost of living challenges.


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