London is facing a “chronic shortage of space” – not for housing this time but for vitally-needed industrial premises, according to a new report from think tank Centre for London’s industrial land commission.
A quarter of the capital’s industrial floorspace has been lost since 2020, damaging London’s economy, squeezing out business, costing jobs and hindering the city’s ability to service the needs of its nine million population, the report warns – with planning policies spearheaded by the government making things worse.
While the “brownfield first” for new housing mantra dominates land use policy, the need for work space is increasing, it says, with more jobs being created both in traditional manufacturing – worth more than £78 billion to the city’s economy – and in new areas including creative and “green” industry and distribution.
The report highlights the conclusion of the inspectors’ 2019 scrutiny of the Sadiq Khan’s London Plan that increasing demand for “industrial, storage, distribution and other uses” would need more land, including potentially in the Green Belt, even if vacant sites were fully put to use.
Despite this, the Mayor’s proposed “no net loss” of industrial space policy was overturned by then Secretary of State Robert Jenrick before he approved the final plan. It was replaced by a direction to boroughs to consider industrial land rather than Green Belt for housing, “even where such land is in active employment uses,” it notes.
The minister’s stance reflected popular opinion, the report concedes, as well as underlining the dilemmas faced by planners, with Londoners continuing to back housebuilding on brownfield land “rather than the densification of existing suburbs or building on the green belt”. But it concludes that London cannot afford to lose any more industrial land and that new approaches are needed if the capital is to avert a “potentially serious crisis”.
“London’s industrial land has long been unloved, misunderstood and often regarded as a relic of the past,” said commission chair Liz Peace, the property expert who is also chair of the Khan’s Old Oak and Park Royal Development Corporation. “Yet while they might not realise it every Londoner needs the services that take place in these spaces. The demand for homes in London clearly must be satisfied but sacrificing the city’s industrial land to meet that demand is short-sighted and ignores the need for jobs for the people living in those homes and for all those vital services required in a thriving city.”
The report calls for industrial space to be better protected in planning policy and for boroughs and City Hall to identify extra land for industry as well. It also recommends that the government should back off, with its role in approving the London Plan “limited to specific considerations directly impacting on the national interest” and its focus shifting towards the need for strategic planning for industrial sites across the wider south east, where supply could be significantly increased.
It adds that industry itself should boost its lobbying, City Hall should appoint a “powerful champion” as deputy mayor for industrial land, and business should be supported to make more intensive use of existing sites.
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