Building more and more warehouses to serve ecommerce shows capitalism at its most rampant; there will be a price to pay.
Post-industrial and farm land has been disappearing under warehousing and related logistics infrastructure for decades and now we are seeing offices, retail stores and land closer to cities being converted for logistics to fulfil the growing desire for online shopping and rapid home delivery.
John Lewis is doing it, banks in the city are doing it and established developers like Prologis are doing it; and paying a premium for the privilege, although all in the context of falling retail asset values. Naturally, we need a rethink on how we use both the built and the unbuilt environment in the context of constrained space, a lack of homes and an even greater lack of social infrastructure to support them.
Nice analogy but no actual football
Wired magazine in June 2021 reported that in 2015, the golden triangle, stretching from south Yorkshire to Milton Keynes and over to Peterborough, was home to 13.4 million square metres of warehouse space, or just over 1,875 football fields. Estate agency, Savills now estimates this grown to 18.5 million, an extra 715 football fields-worth. And plenty more to come as foreign private equity and hedge funds sink money into development with an eye on long-term future returns after early write offs.
And to think we once worried that the UK had too many shops; now we have to consider that logistics actually requires a bigger footprint than retail, but we don’t seem to worry because that footprint is being built on the edge of towns or on ancient woodland. This all needs careful thought, which of course it won’t get until it’s too late.
First of all, what will be the longer term impact of the continued demand for next day delivery that is driving the growth of logistics, as well as the fact that more and more companies are stockpiling to deal with the supply chain disruptions caused by Brexit.
More warehouses, but no houses to store deliveries in
It could mean fewer not more houses; Jules Pipe, a London deputy Mayor, has already said that the surge in the value of last-mile logistics assets could reduce the number of homes built in and around the UK capital.
While we are re-evaluating our impact on our planet, this should include an assessment of the physical footprint we are responsible for, by adding warehousing, retail and related space dedicated to serving consumers together to recognise the fact that we are a small country with limited space and not enough homes.
Let me stress that these are not the thoughts of a little island Brexiteer; Brexit was the worst decision we made in my lifetime and we are now clearly seeing that it brings not a single positive benefit. We seemed to get along pretty well inside the EU and are now discovering that we are fast becoming a pariah not just in Europe but elsewhere in the world where our star has fallen so low since 1945 that the best we can do on the Trade deal front is one with Australia, from which we import little and which has animal welfare standards well below ours.
Of course, none of this matters as more and more land disappears under concrete, a material so eco unfriendly that listening to Boris Johnson lecture world leaders for moving too slowly on addressing climate change just sets off waves of nausea followed by indignation.
Dinosaurs led by donkeys
The price to pay will be the continued erosion of Britons’ (and I mean everyone who lives here) once lauded tolerance, gentleness, bawdy often morbid humour and a healthy ability to take almost nothing too seriously. However, the threat to democracy from the current Government, a refusal to adopt proportional representation and the unions’ block vote in the Labour Party, is real and has shaken us all out of our torpor. And yet we do nothing expecting perhaps that a new generation of clever, talented and enlightened politicians will magically appear in the next five years. They won’t. When the entire government cabinet and its ineffectual leader are even stupider than you, then you know you are in trouble.
Hands up if this describes you, you beautiful dinosaur.