The logistics sector brings a multitude of economic, practical and environmental benefits to the West Midlands. However, better collaboration with government and the industry is needed to unlock the full potential of logistics. More work can and should be done to convince the public what the industry offers to the region.
The West Midlands is seeing an increasing level of investment in the logistics sector. We will be building the West Midlands Interchange (WMI) which at 8 million square feet, will be the largest freight rail logistics development site in the UK. WMI is being developed by Logistics Capital Partners and Oxford Properties Group as joint venture partners.
Smaller projects are also under way across the region, such as Prologis Park Hams Hall and Prologis Park Ryton, near Coventry. The Office for National Statistics states the area around Birmingham that forms a ‘Golden Triangle’ for logistics has seen a rapid expansion of transport and storage businesses over the last decade. According to Savills, in 2022 the supply of logistics space in the West Midlands was 23% higher than the previous year.
To bring tangible benefits for the community, the logistics industry faces considerable challenges. The process of winning consent for the development of new logistics hubs is slow and expensive, with many projects taking years to be approved, partly because of resistance to the projects. A common misconception is that logistics will only provide low-wage and insecure employment. The view that logistics will only ever create a detrimental environmental impact also must be challenged.
Opposition to new logistics hubs can be overcome by showcasing the wide range of practical benefits of a larger logistics sector. As online retail grows, additional logistics capacity will be needed to ensure online deliveries are prompt, and retail companies can manage increasing demand. Logistics companies can offer investment in local infrastructure and community facilities. For example, we are funding road upgrades around the WMI site, and creating two new community parks for the area. There is an opportunity for the logistics sector to contribute to making the West Midlands a more vibrant place to live and work, with investment generated by projects such as WMI used to finance public facilities. To achieve this, logistics companies need to forge stronger relationships with local government, as well as community groups like sports clubs or youth services.
More needs to be done to promote the quality and quantity of jobs logistics creates. These jobs are varied, from procurement and supply chain management, to sales, transportation, and finance. Logistics companies provide plenty of ways to train and upskill employees, through professional qualifications, certificates and apprenticeships – which the Apprenticeship Levy is helping to support. Contrary to popular perception, many jobs in the logistics sector are well paid, secure, and offer a variety of benefits under safe working conditions. Logistics companies are also increasingly offering flexible working, allowing their employees to tailor their jobs around family and caring responsibilities. Many West Midlands politicians have already spoken of the value jobs generated by logistics companies, including MPs such as Michael Fabricant, who approved of the expansion of an ASOS depot in his Lichfield constituency.
A larger logistics sector can play a key role in improving the environment and helping the West Midlands achieve Net Zero by 2050, challenging the view that it is environmentally harmful. We will play a key role in facilitating the transition from goods being transported by lorries to freight rail, helping to reduce carbon emissions, air pollution and congestion. The West Midlands is particularly well-suited to freight rail, because of the transformative investment in its rail network through the Midlands Rail Hub. HS2 will provide additional rail capacity in the region by having more passenger traffic run on its own track, leaving capacity on the conventional rail network for freight.
At the moment, meeting consumer demand for goods and reducing carbon emissions is difficult – you cannot have next day delivery whilst meeting Net Zero obligations with present-day technology. But because Net Zero is popular and a key priority for politicians, by demonstrating logistics’ environmental credentials, industry leaders can win government and public support.
The logistics sector brings a wide range of benefits to the West Midlands. It creates jobs and training opportunities for people with a range of skills, economic growth and investment, and practical and environmental benefits. However, the region cannot take advantage of these benefits unless its local government leaders collaborate with Westminster, and industry leaders promote the industry and the positive impact it has for people. If there is more consistent engagement between local government, industry leaders and West Midlands residents, there will be fewer dissenting voices when planning decisions are due to be made.
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