The increasing pressure on industrial land in London from non-industrial uses, and how this is to be balanced against unprecedented demand for logistics and industrial floorspace, is the central theme of the paper launched by the Centre for London – Making Space – Accommodating London’s Industrial Future.
The nature of uses within industrial land in London continues to evolve at an extreme pace and despite the increasing demand for industrial floorspace, the capital has lost some 25% of its industrial land to other uses in the last 20 years, with around 40% in inner London.
Industrial uses comprise anything from traditional and bespoke manufacturing, to waste processes and self-storage, but development within the sector has seen the tenant mix change significantly as the growth of online retail and digitalisation of the economy has continued at pace. The pandemic has accelerated this change in occupier mix with the continued growth of dark kitchens to service relatively established operators such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats. Additionally, a significant amount of space has been taken by occupier within the heavily funded rapid grocery delivery sector such as Gorillas and Getir.
It is clear that pro-active measures are needed to facilitate this growth and ensure the sustainable evolution of this important pillar of London’s economy.
In the report, the planning system is identified as one of the constraints. The evidence base supporting Local Plans can be significantly out of date, and an Employment Land Review from as recently 2017 or 2018 is unlikely to reflect an up-to-date position. Therefore, the recommendation for an improved evidence base to monitor and understand the need for industrial floorspace in London is key. The Greater London Authority’s move towards the digitalisation of the planning system should assist and form a central plank of future evidence gathering exercises. However, this will continue to be a challenge in such a fast moving market.
Concern is also raised about the potential impact of the flexibility afforded within Class E, which now incorporates the old B1 uses, including B1c – Light Industrial uses. Intended to provide flexibility for town centre uses to change uses without the need for planning permission. As a consequence, units within B1c use could be lost to other Class E uses, such as retail & leisure, without the need for planning permission (unless subject to an Article 4 direction), further reducing the supply of industrial floorspace and displacing industrial occupiers. However, this also has the potential to provide a mix of uses complementary uses such as gyms, cafes and support the predominant industrial sites. The flexibility works both ways and could provide an opportunity to bring in retail and leisure uses back into industrial uses. This is evident in the increasing range of uses that are present on industrial estates, particularly in secondary industrial locations and elsewhere across the country, with an increasing focus on non-industrial uses. Whether the significant negative impact of Class E on industrial floorspace capacity applies to London remains to be seen, given the significant pressure for Class B8 logistics and last mile floorspace.