The record-breaking demand for warehouse and distribution centre developments is resulting in what some call a “land grab” across Northamptonshire. E-commerce has increased rapidly over the past few years. The buying and selling of goods over the internet now accounts for twenty-five percent of the money spent in the retail sector.
Although the Covid pandemic is one of the principal reasons for this increase in online sales, this high volume of online shopping is forecast to grow. Because these goods need to be stored somewhere before they are sent out to customers, there has been increasing demand for warehouse construction with a direct impact on the local area.
Warehouse development, although present in many parts of the country, is particularly found in the so-called ‘golden triangle’ – an area with its corners approximately in Northamptonshire, Birmingham and Nottingham. This swathe of the midlands is especially useful for logistics companies because ninety percent of the UK’s population can be reached within a four-hour drive. The golden triangle has cheaper land than places such as London, and markets in Scotland can be reached more easily. Many arterial roads such as the M1 pass through this area, and the A14 means that lorries can reach the port at Felixstowe, which deals with forty-eight percent of Britain’s container trade.
Wired reported that the area covered in warehouses in the golden triangle increased by the equivalent of 715 football fields from 2015 to 2021. Within the golden triangle, Northamptonshire is an important centre for the warehouse industry. Thirty-three thousand people in the county are employed in transport and storage which is about nine percent of all people employed, almost double the national average.
Alongside the growing demand for warehouse space, there are also environmental concerns. Most warehouses are built on greenfield land that has never been built on before and the impacts on the environment are in the spotlight and facing significant opposition to development.
Examples close to Oundle are two planned developments near Titchmarsh and Thrapston, which have generated lots of controversy. The two developments, a business park by IM Properties and an adjacent plan by Newlands Developments, total 289 acres.
The local group campaigning against the developments, Save Titchmarsh and Upper Nene Countryside and Habitats (STAUNCH), says that the developments are both unwanted and unnecessary, and threaten sites of special scientific interest.
The proposed developments have been controversial for some time, especially the development by IM Properties, which bought the Glebe Land with a ten-year development option from the Diocese of Peterborough. St Mary’s Parochial Church Council in Titchmarsh objected: the site was not identified for development in any local plans; an increase in traffic and pollution, and resulting coalescence between Titchmarsh and Thrapston ‘in contravention of established rural planning policy’. They said the Diocese had not responded to any communications and had “ridden roughshod” over the local community and the church’s mission.
In March IM Properties posted their draft masterplan for a massive flagship new facility for DSV, a Danish transport and logistics company. They hosted drop-in public events and said that they would report back to the community.
They plan on submitting a planning application later this year; part of this will be a ‘Statement of Community Engagement’, which will report on the feedback received from a public consultation held in early March.
Newlands Developments submitted a planning application in February to develop Castle Manor Farm with storage and distribution units on a site that is fifty percent bigger than the Glebe Land, lying mostly in the parish of Thrapston. To date the application has received 385 objections.
At the other end of the A605 corridor just across the boundary into Cambridgeshire there are plans by Newlands Development for another logistics park across from the A1 services, which would create 4.6 million square feet of warehouse space over a 300-acre site.
This plan has also received opposition because of fears that it would dominate the landscape, as well as traffic and pollution concerns. However, the site has received interest from several companies.
With the A605 hemmed by logistics developments at both ends, questions have been raised about how long it will be before the corridor is lined with similar developments. The trade-off between the growth of e-commerce and environmental concerns will only increase as more business engagement continues to move online.