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New Plans for Industrial Land in North & North East London

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The Mayor of London’s extensive Draft New London Plan signalled his determination to ‘get London building.’

Ambitious housing targets and subsequent relaxation of planning constraints and density guidelines to help home builders meet expectations, coupled with the Mayor’s expressed commitment to protect the Green Belt, were the focus of media attention earlier this year.

Sadiq Khan’s renewed emphasis on unlocking land for building includes redeveloping brownfield sites, promoting the use of small sites, increasing density and the development of new growth corridors alongside planned new infrastructure. This all confirms his determination to deliver the new homes London residents and businesses need, but also to work towards a vision of a greener London.

However, a city does not just need homes to function, it also needs industrial space for manufacturing, warehousing, logistics, and essential infrastructure services, and the Draft New London Plan also sets out the Mayor’s strategy for ensuring sufficient industrial space through policies of ‘no net loss’ and intensification of industrial uses.

With around 100 hectares of land a year being transferred into residential and other uses such as retail and office accommodation, almost treble the current benchmark release rate of 37 hectares, the loss of industrial land has previously been justified by the declining needs of industry within the city.

City Hall’s report of June 2017 showed how continued decline at this rate would have dire consequences for the capital’s economy resulting in insufficient land for the essential industries and logistics needed for London to thrive. The idea that London needs less industrial space is no longer supported.

While demand for industrial space for manufacturing has slowed, this has been replaced by increasing need for distribution and logistics space. An increasing population brings with it an uplift in economic activity which in turn drives demand for warehousing space as households and businesses require goods to be delivered to shops, homes and work.

This has been integral to the formation of the Draft New London Plan’s proposed industrial policies. The plan states that there should be no overall net loss of industrial floorspace in strategically designated industrial locations. The use of the term ‘floorspace’ is an important distinction. Replacing the term ‘industrial land’, this concept envisages the intensification of existing industrial land through stacking and multi-storey developments, a strategy which aims to release some valuable much-needed land for housing. There is a vision of some mixed-use development where homes and industry could rub shoulders, along with segregated spaces for heavier industrial use. “The development of a true blend of homes and industry has yet to be properly tested with many developers wary of the financial implications of getting it wrong.” says Strettons Industrial Agency Director Neal Matthews.

Sites within the north and north-east London boroughs are critical to the draft plan’s industrial strategy. The majority of boroughs have at least one Strategic Industrial Location (SIL) and the plan states that these are important in “supporting strategic logistics operations serving the capital as well as providing relatively low-cost industrial space for SMEs.” The Upper Lea Valley in North London and the Thames Gateway in East London are of particular importance and the boroughs are encouraged to “secure and enhance the strategic provision of SILs.”

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The plan states that boroughs should proactively manage SILs so that they remain London’s “reservoirs of industrial, logistics and related capacity for uses that support the functioning of London’s economy.” Importantly, it also states the development proposals for uses in SILS that fall outside the “broad industrial-type activities” should be refused, and this includes residential development.

The industrial land requirements of each borough are identified in the plan, along with a directive that they should ‘Provide capacity,’ ‘Retain capacity,’ or provide ‘Limited release’ of industrial land for other uses. For the London boroughs within our ‘patch’ of north and northeast London, the plan sets out differing industrial land requirements.

The previous benchmarks saw some industrial land release in all boroughs whereas the new Plan now states, for example, that Newham and Barking & Dagenham must release some land for alternative uses, particularly affordable housing. Enfield has been identified as a borough that must provide more industrial capacity, whereas other north and north-east London boroughs are required to ‘retain capacity.’ Therefore, the London Borough of Enfield will face conflicting demands for its land use, being required to increase its industrial capacity and also deliver 18,760 new homes over the next ten years. Matthews commented, “An intensification of uses is inevitable albeit planners and developers need to think very carefully to avoid a confused end result that works for neither resident nor industrial occupier.” 

The Mayor has given Enfield the task of intensifying industrial floorspace capacity in new and/or existing locations which are accessible to transport infrastructure. Intensification may be the key to Enfield’s success. The plan aims to increase plot ratios via redevelopment at 65%, significantly higher than the current 40%. But this ambition goes against the operation needs of the occupiers so is likely to be unworkable, so, whilst this ambition might be laudable, many new industrial developments fail to achieve this ratio and the complexities of developing on smaller industrial sites could also mean the 65% target is unachievable, despite the best interest and intentions of the borough.

Given this increased protection for industrial space, increased house building targets and the vision of a greener capital, the demand on north and northeast London’s land looks set to increase further. With higher land values that residential development demands compared to industrial, it has to be hoped that the new plan offers enough safeguards to protect the industry.

The complexities of delivering new housing, particularly affordable housing, and maintaining or increasing industrial capacity will create pressures for boroughs and Londoners. However, despite local government ambitions, ultimately the developer and operational market will dictate the end result.