Article | Future Cities

Can warehouses be good neighbours?

October 24, 2022 4 Minute Read

By Duncan Robertson

Bird view of a warehouse

CBRE’s latest European Logistics Occupier survey revealed that a third of respondents see expansion into urban locations as a high priority. This partly reflects the need to be centrally based to fulfil rising customer expectations. Still a lack of suitable sites, increased competition, traffic congestion and restrictions on operation inside towns are all driving logistic operators towards sites closer to residential neighbourhoods.

Beyond the already complex planning issues, a move into residential areas typically prompts a not in my back yard (NIMBY) response from local residents, who instinctively conflate distribution activities with industrial processes, imagining dirty old manufacturing plants responsible for pollution, noise and poor visual impacts.

For developers, early engagement with the local community is essential; it is an opportunity to address the misconceptions. For example, bringing distribution closer to urban centres means a reduction in overall journey numbers and more efficient vehicle use. This can lead to improved air quality, lower carbon emissions, less congestion, improved road safety and enhanced operational efficiency. There are also economic benefits for local communities through the jobs they create. By finding out what matters to local people, developers can make distribution centres an integrated part of the communities they occupy.

Distribution is traditionally land hungry, but more efficient multi-storey warehousing models have been trialled to address the lack of space closer to city centres. In residential areas, lower eaves heights and buildings positioned away from boundaries can reduce the visual impact of larger structures. Designs incorporating mixed use distribution and residential solutions (beds & sheds) are already in existence, and subterranean warehousing allows high bay warehousing without the visual impact.

Trees and landscaped screening can be used to conceal the presence of warehouses from residents. Not only can this landscaping provide open spaces for communities to use and enjoy, but it also helps to reduce the heat island effect by providing cooling from natural shade. 

The wellbeing and satisfaction of employees is a key objective for many operators in the war for talent. Modern warehouses often provide gyms, five-a-side pitches, coffee concessions and sun terraces. Outside of core operating hours, these facilities could be made available to the community where there is no local equivalent, impacting positively on crime and neighbourhood security.

Sustainability is an increasingly important element of building design too. According to our survey, more than three quarters of the largest logistics occupiers have already adopted a net zero carbon target. They plan to meet their targets by using on-site energy generation, capturing and reusing rainwater, and providing EV charging points for an electric fleet. All these measures can provide wider community benefits; for example, providing access to EV charging points for public use outside business hours.

Correcting misconception is the key to helping residential communities overcome their instinctive resistance to the presence of in-town distribution. These buildings can be genuine forces for good in many neighbourhoods, providing both the amenities and job opportunities communities lack, as well as contributing to local agendas on sustainability and carbon reduction.

We have a specialist team and have recently delivered a number of sustainable logistics developments across the UK and Ireland. Get in touch to learn more.