Green Belt spats threaten to smother industrial’s rising tide

Delays in approving 5.3m sq ft of logistics development on Green Belt land in Bolton, Wigan and St Helens are preventing the region from capitalising on unprecedented levels of demand, experts warned. 

The Government has called in Harworth Group’s West of Wingates, a proposed 1m sq ft industrial scheme in Bolton; Parkside Colliery, a 1m sq ft project to be delivered by St Helens Council and developer Langtree; Peel L&P and PLP’s 1.8m sq ft Haydock Point in St Helens; and Tritax Symmetry’s 1.4m sq ft Symmetry Park in Wigan.

“Had they been allowed last year there would have been stuff already up, built and let on all of those schemes, and [the fact that they’re not yet approved] is going to have an impact on supply moving forward,” said Rob Taylor, head of industrial at Cushman & Wakefield. 

However, speaking at a recent Place North West event, Taylor pointed to a flipside – that “blue-collar” towns in Lancashire, including Burnley, Preston and Blackburn, could benefit from planning delays on such large-scale schemes as developers hunt for land elsewhere in the region.

Last year, 5.6m sq ft of industrial and logistics space was transacted in the North West, according to Cushman & Wakefield – representing an increase of 17% year-on-year. The surge was driven by changing consumer habits amid the pandemic, however supply shortages caused by planning hold-ups are increasingly becoming a concern for agents and developers alike, Taylor said.

As well as the four schemes awaiting a decision from the planning inspectorate, several other large-scale employment developments have been blocked in recent months, heaping added strain on an already scant supply of industrial accommodation in the North West.

For example, Liberty Properties Developments and Eddie Stobart’s plans for 650,000 sq ft distribution hub in Warrington were refused last November, while Stockport Council recently voted against plans for a 1m sq ft extension to Bredbury Industrial Estate. 

Eddie Stobart Appleton

Eddie Stobart’s plans for a £75m national distribution centre in Warrington were refused

Both schemes were refused due to the perceived harm they would cause to designated Green Belt. 

St Helens, which is waiting for the outcome of Government call-ins of two major employment schemes, could also miss out on an opportunity to create much-needed jobs after a pandemic-hit year.

“It is hugely frustrating,” said Lisa Harris, executive director of place at St Helens Council, also speaking at Place North West‘s Industrial + Logistics event at the end of last month. “Financially we are facing some of the biggest challenges we have ever faced,” 

“Green Belt development is a sensitive issue and we have to listen to local residents but it is all about balance. We are in a post-pandemic world and we know that the economy is going to be hit hard and we have to recover quickly.” 

One way to make the issue of Green Belt less of a deciding factor in planning disputes is to better educate politicians and the public about the benefits of the sector, including its potential to lead improvements in real estate sustainability, and to create jobs, experts at the event agreed. 

“People take a dim view and see industrial development as dirty, but sustainability is here to stay [because] investors want it,” Taylor said. “We have work to do to convince people that the industry can develop sustainably and that it wants to.” 

Rob Taylor Cush&Wake

Taylor: Green Belt will ‘inevitably’ be released for industrial development to cope with demand

But for some people, development in the Green Belt will always be seen as an affront on open green space, regardless of the number of jobs a scheme could create for local people or a project’s eco credentials. 

“People see Green Belt as a holy shrine that should never be touched,” noted Paul Martin, head of development at Firethorn Trust. 

“[But] it was allocated to prevent urban sprawl. In terms of logistics, you are looking at motorway junctions. If you use common sense, [you can see that] that’s not valuable green space as it has already been degraded by the motorway. Efforts need to be made to change public opinion.” 

The outcome of the four planning inquiries are expected to help to clarify the Government’s stance on the competing issues of Green Belt preservation and economic development, but even if each of the schemes is refused, there will likely come a time when demand reaches a point where the dam breaks, the industry experts said. 

“I don’t want vast swathes of concrete all over the countryside but there is a real strain on opportunities for future employment land,” Taylor said. 

“We are going to have to see some Green Belt land taken up by urban logistics and distribution. It’s going to have to be the case. It’s inevitable.

Your Comments

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Desire to improve economic productivity need for jobs = Green Belt release to accommodate the premises requirements.

By Anonymous

Each of these sites and which are supported by their respective LPAs need to come forward. Likewise the Bredbury site, albeit the members stupidly went against the officers recommendation. If Jenrick doesn’t approve, it will be a substantive loss to the NW Region that will further undermine Northern Powerhouse and the so called levelling up agenda. Moreover, other regions such as the East Midlands will gain and be laughing at our misfortune….

By Grumpy Old Git

Problem is, the destruction of greenbelt doesn’t provide the jobs predicted. This can be seen again and again in recent developments in the North West. Whilst an ‘inconvenience’ to developers, the public need to see valid returns for the loss of their countryside and they equate this into jobs.

If we’re honest, there are plenty of existing commercial sites that can be used, but developers take the easier option and give too many incentives to councils, road improvements, football pitches, donations to local infrastructure, for them to feel able to reject applications in these cash strapped times of austerity.

Everyone needs to be more transparent, from those ‘informal’ meetings with LAs, to using up to date algorithms for job forecasts, the public are fed up of being lied to by big organisations, trust has gone.

The only way public opinion can be changed is by developers stop ignoring concerns and riding roughshod over greenbelt groups and to start being open and honest – unlikely to happen based on recent developments.

By Kt

There is no shortage of industrial sites ie brownfield sites in places such as Warrington, St Helens, Bolton, Wigan etc. You only have to drive around these places to see this

By Steve

It might be “hugely frustrating” for those wishing to develop vast swathes of greenbelt land including best most versatile agricultural land but they really don’t do themselves any favours. Job projections often unmet, mitigation often inadequate, redundant sites not repurposed, unfulfilled promises, un-minuted meetings and lack of transparency. It is an “affront” to use greenbelt land because it is easier and more profitable for developers, “wanting” something is not the same a needing it. “Efforts need to be made” to change the attitude of developers to do the right thing by developing brownfield and repurposing space. Also think it has conveniently slipped Lisa Harris’ memory that her own council opposed plans at Haydock Point. How does that sit with the post-pandemic world she talks about? Refusal proposed by chair of planning Cllr Sev Gomez-Aspron – who used all the justifications against granting Florida Farm North as the foundation for his arguments at Haydock Point – making no secret that Parkside is his favoured project and one that he got into politics to see delivered. Hardly impartial. For these reasons, this is why people remain “unconvinced” – they would all sell their Grandmas for a fiver.

By Dori

Complete and utter balderdash. Green space is more important to health, ecology and the mopping up of traffic pollution than overestimated job creation promised by these greedy self-interested developers and self-interested council planners. Keep Green Space sacrosanct for the good of people, wildlife and the eco structure. These developers are just self-interested zealots with no interest in public opinion. This area has had enough development and we do not want more. Build in industrial areas, not in the countryside.

By Brian & Audrey Lobell

Could I politely ask Brian and Audrey what they think the self interest of ‘the planners’ is?

By Bluetit

Any encroachment on Greenbelt Land should be resisted as it just allows the same excuses of the Land already being degraded to be used over and over again. I have yet to see any Developement provide anywhere near the levels of employment that are promised and there are still massive areas of Land that could be redeveloped that are currently sitting derelict.

By Keith Robb

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