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Planning system could be amended to support freight sector

Words: Laura Edgar
Freight and logistics - a supply chain warehouse in the East Midlands / Simon Annable, Shutterstock_1747419245

The government intends to publish a call for evidence by autumn as part of its works to better support the freight and logistics sector.

This was outlined in the Future of Freight Plan, a strategy for the government and industry to work closer together to deliver “a world-class, seamless flow of freight across the UK’s roads, railways, seas, skies and canals".

It is also part of the government’s plans to ‘level up’ across England.

The strategy includes a £7 million investment to boost the uptake of innovative new technology that will help to decarbonise and digitalise the sector. Investment aims to support wider economic growth by ensuring that businesses can operate efficiently, getting the goods they need on time and at a reasonable cost while safeguarding their jobs.

The Future of Freight Plan contains a section on planning, which explains that there is a disconnect between “an industry that is not equipped to properly engage with the planning process, and local planning authorities that are unable to understand the needs of a changing and innovative freight and logistics sector”. This means the process for promoters bringing forward schemes in the national interest face increased complexity and costs.

The strategy is clear that the planning system has a role in ensuring that the country has a freight and logistics sector that is economically efficient, reliable, resilient and environmentally sustainable.

The planning section outlines that across 19 key industrial and logistics markets in England, demand for space was higher than the supply of available land and floor space in each area. The planning system, the strategy states, “will be key to enabling the growth and innovation of the freight sector to better meet current and future challenges”.

There needs to be a joined-up approach between the planning system, local authorities and industry to safeguard and prioritise the land needed to meet demand, it says.

When planning policies and decisions fail to adequately consider the needs of the freight and logistics sector, other transport network users and local communities are negatively affected, which makes obtaining approval for schemes more challenging to obtain, leading to delays and reduced certainty.

The planning section identifies a number of key actives for a stronger future for freight, including:

  • To ensure that the government understands the practical issues of planning for and delivering the right infrastructure to best support the freight and logistics sector, it will publish a call for evidence by autumn 2022. This will help to build a comprehensive picture of where the planning system can appropriately support the freight and logistics sector, including understanding what is working well, what could work better and how the government can promote best practice. There are a range of measures that could be taken, including updates to national planning policy that would be implemented as part of our programme of changes to the planning system, and updates to planning practice guidance.
  • The government will consult on and publish an updated DfT circular later in 2022 including higher standards for roadside facilities on the strategic road network so that government can provide better facilities for HGV drivers.
  • The government aims to consult on and update guidance on local transport plans by the end of 2022 to ensure that freight needs are key considerations in local transport plan-making.
  • Through the current review of the National Networks National Policy Statement (NNNPS) – which the government aims to complete by spring 2023 – the government will consider the growing importance of major freight schemes to the economy, particularly the increasingly important role of strategic rail freight interchanges (SRFIs) and the interdependencies between different transport hubs along the supply chain.
  • Through potential updates to the National Design Guide, Manual for Streets, and National Model Design Code, the government will explore the role that street design can play in driving up standards for delivery and servicing arrangement in all developments. It will also consider the need to guarantee that the planning system can support innovation and technological advancements to each stage of the supply chain, including ensuring that the right infrastructure is in place to support zero-carbon transport.

Mark Sitch, planning director at Barton Willmore, now Stantec, told The Planner: "The Future of Freight plan is welcome recognition by the government of the role of logistics as a significant contributor to investment and employment in UK PLC. The call for evidence is an opportunity for government, local planning authorities and industry to work collectively, especially through local plans and national policy to address the shortage of logistics space, and to recognise it as key national infrastructure.

"It’s a positive starting point that the plan acknowledges the unavoidable role of the existing strategic road network and the locational requirements of different sectors in driving the identification of suitable logistics sites. To ensure that the ‘need for space’ is delivered in the right accessible locations, there needs to be sufficient focus on identifying suitable sites in local plan-making and decision making. This sometimes means taking a more proactive approach to the assessment of planning applications for logistics sites against the full range of economic, environmental and social benefits that can be delivered.

"Tackling the significant shortage of space may take time, but this plan and its call for evidence is a step in the right direction."

The Future of Freight Plan can be read here on the UK Government website.

Image credit | Simon Annable, Shutterstock