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Large Logistics Parks (Transport Infrastructure)

Volume 618: debated on Wednesday 7 December 2016

I beg to move,

That this House has considered transport infrastructure for proposed development of large logistics parks.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone. I thank hon. Members for attending the debate.

The need to transport essential supplies and other consumer goods around the United Kingdom has spurred the demand for large distribution parks, especially in my constituency of South Leicestershire and around the midlands. Property developers have responded by lodging an increasing volume of applications with local planning authorities, many of which are small and insufficiently resourced to deal with such large-scale proposals and the infrastructure required to support them. Often, the applications comprise large land-takes—many of greenfield sites and rural areas where there is little culture of planning across different authority boundaries, even between neighbouring authorities. As a result, there is a need for a co-ordinating national policy specifically governing the development of these large logistics parks.

The logistics industry has expanded over the past 20 years —not only to supply retail outlets, but to satisfy the boom in internet shopping, with which most hon. Members are well familiar. This year, online retailers such as Amazon and others account for one third of the warehousing property development market, with supermarkets accounting for one quarter. Currently, 80% of costs of all goods are transport costs, even before taking into account on-costs of infrastructure maintenance, the environmental costs of traffic congestion or, indeed, the health-related costs of air pollution. A recent World Bank report stated that congestion on UK roads is the worst in Europe, and the UK has the highest percentage of premature deaths owing to poor quality and polluted air.

The Government have defined a national policy, preferring the development of rail-based freight terminals and seeking to minimise fossil fuel-based road transport. For example, the Daventry International Railfreight Terminal close to the M1 in Northamptonshire, and near Rugby in Warwickshire and Lutterworth in my constituency, is a major development entering its third planned phase. Further planned developments are taking place at East Midlands Gateway with airport and rail connections, and near Hinckley, with a planned rail depot. Despite all that, there has been a proliferation of distribution centres reliant on road transport, notably in my South Leicestershire constituency and in adjacent constituencies. As the infrastructure rarely aligns with the speculative development of land-based centres, roads and highways are frequently under strain owing to the volume of traffic they now carry.

As there is no national policy of locating distribution centres to match essential regional needs for longer-term economic development, there continues to be what I call the piecemeal development of many road-based sites. At a local level, there is little integration of inter-authority planning for optimum locations. Such unplanned development leads to increased volumes of traffic on local roads. The resulting traffic congestion leads to delays and queues at key junctions, disrupting citizens’ day-to-day travel to work, school and health facilities. As a constituency MP, I experience this congestion when I take my daughter to school. I see hundreds of heavy goods vehicles every week and I have witnessed accidents involving HGVs in and around the Magna Park area.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. He makes an important point about traffic congestion. There is an Amazon fulfilment centre in Rugeley in my constituency, and HGV fly-parking is a real problem for local residents. Does he consider that to be an issue as well?

Yes, that is another issue that should be taken into account.

The Government must now take the whole matter into account, and I ask them to consider developing a national policy on the location of these large logistics parks.

In my area, there is a proposed development on green-belt land near a one-way motorway junction. The Greater Manchester spatial strategy includes plans for the motorway junction to become two-way in 40 years, but the development may take place within the next two years if that very important land is taken out of the green belt. There are also developments with no consultation in St Helens, in the neighbouring borough, which will increase the traffic again on that junction. Does the hon. Gentleman agree we need some national infrastructure in place to develop the proposals for logistics sites on these important pieces of land?

I agree with the hon. Lady’s points. I want to give others the opportunity to speak in this important debate, but my point is that it is now time for the Government to set out their proposals for a national policy on the location of these large logistics parks.

Order. We have a slight problem in that I do not know whether anyone else has the Minister’s permission to speak.

I am very grateful to the Minister. As I said, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) on raising the issue and calling for this debate. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone.

My constituency, Cannock Chase, is home to several large logistics parks, largely because of the constituency’s proximity to motorways, rail and the trunk road network. For instance, Kingswood Lake business park in Cannock is home to logistics businesses such as APC Overnight. Given its proximity to the M6 and the M6 toll road, Cannock and the surrounding area is increasingly being considered for other large logistics centres. However, the issues that my hon. Friend highlighted can be illustrated by some of the issues faced by residents and businesses in Rugeley.

In contrast to Cannock, Rugeley is not within a mile of the motorway network but, as I mentioned, it is home to one of Amazon’s fulfilment centres. The site was initially developed speculatively, with Amazon identifying it as an ideal site in the midlands to home one of its fulfilment centres. The site and the town do not have the facilities, however, to cope with large volumes of HGVs, often only having a small turnaround time window at the Amazon site. Specifically, there is no lorry parking locally and no facilities for drivers to use. The consequences, as I have mentioned in previous debates, is HGV fly-parking.

Residents of Rugeley, particularly those of Leathermill Lane, Love Lane and local businesses based in Towers business park on Wheelhouse Road, are plagued by lorries parked up overnight that are probably best described as being littered around the streets of Rugeley. Not only is this an inconvenience to road and footpath users; but it creates a safety issue on those roads. Even worse, residents and businesses have to put up with the litter that the drivers leave behind. I will not elaborate; I leave it to hon. Members’ imaginations to work out what that litter includes. I have been in regular contact with Staffordshire County Council and the local police to call on them to take action to address those issues. I met Amazon earlier this week to raise the issue directly. This symptom highlights the need to consider transport infrastructure when developing plans for logistics parks.

Like the constituencies of both my hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa), whom I congratulate on securing this debate, my constituency has a very large number of logistics parks. We must not stand in the way of economic development, but it is important that infrastructure is provided.

The issue is a concern to my constituents in villages such as Monks Kirby and Pailton, who are affected by the proposals for the large logistics site in Leicestershire. The solution to that problem is improving the A5; I hope the Minister will tell us about proposals for dualling the A5, which forms the boundary between my constituency and the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire.

I completely agree with a couple of my hon. Friend’s points. We must not get in the way of economic development, which I will touch on shortly. The A5 goes all the way up to Cannock, and the road is permanently clogged. I support anything that will lead to the A5 being dualled as quickly as possible, which would alleviate many of the problems we are talking about today.

Consideration of transport infrastructure is particularly important when we consider the redevelopment of the Rugeley B power station site, which is opposite the Amazon fulfilment site. These are early days, but the infrastructure cannot cope now, so I have concerns about the plans for developing the site. The infrastructure we have now will not support further logistics centres.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Minister and the Government should require neighbouring local planning authorities to consult jointly on planning development for such large logistics sites and other infrastructure? Proposals for the development of logistics sites, such as Magna Park, should be accompanied by adequate pre-planned development of road and rail infrastructure.

I completely agree. I get complaints about sites in neighbouring constituencies. We are so close to the M6 toll road and the M6 that other developments are in the pipeline. The Rugeley B redevelopment crosses the boundary between Cannock Chase District Council and Lichfield District Council, which need to work together. I am pleased that a taskforce is pulling together the two district councils, the county council and the local enterprise partnership. I have been calling on them to consider the strategic vision for the site so that we ultimately have highly skilled jobs for the future residents of Rugeley.

The situation in which we find ourselves in Rugeley with Amazon, and the situation in which we could find ourselves as we look to the redevelopment of the Rugeley B site, clearly demonstrate the need to consider infrastructure and the surrounding policy, and the need to work collaboratively at all levels.

I wholly agree with my hon. Friend that we must seriously consider introducing policy to ensure that consideration is given to the local infrastructure that such large parks require. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

It is a delight to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bone, and it is a double delight to speak at this small lectern, which is a new addition to this assembly that adds to both my status and grandeur, as if I needed either.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) on securing this debate. He is right that the circumstances he set out are the result of other changes. He is right to draw attention to the fact that this is a growing trend that is a result of the way that people obtain goods and the way those goods are dispatched.

I am inclined to the view of Schumacher, and I am a fan of his book “Small is Beautiful”. Of course, he said:

“Man is small, and, therefore, small is beautiful.”

I am inclined, too, to regard politics and commerce as best conducted on a human scale. Nevertheless, we must deal with things as they are. I understand that the consequences my hon. Friend set out present particular challenges in the area he represents. It is often said that there is a geographical triangle where there is a propensity to develop such sites, and his constituency is in that triangle.

As I know from earlier discussions with my hon. Friend, he knows that logistics is a vital part of our country’s economy and prosperity. I have responsibility for freight, which is, in part, why I am responding to this debate. I take a keen interest in how logistics continues to develop and in how we can support HGV drivers and businesses, but I am mindful of the effect of those businesses on communities, which is the essence of this debate. This is about how storage facilities are changing and how logistics parks affect local communities.

I am delighted that the Minister is standing up for logistics. There is a lot of logistics development in my constituency, and it is often thought of as low-calibre work with hulky blokes throwing boxes around, but nothing could be further from the truth. These are high-tech, well-structured, well-managed and well-organised businesses that perform a vital function in getting goods to consumers.

In representing people in this House, and in serving in Government, we draw on our personal and constituency experiences. My uncle was a long-distance lorry driver, and my cousin followed him into that job. I represent many hauliers in South Holland and The Deepings, and I have regular dialogue with them. As Members would expect, I have discussions with the industry as a Minister.

I am equally anxious and concerned about the effects on traffic in local communities, particularly from developments around logistics sites, which my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire has mentioned. We need to, and can, strike a balance between the interests of the industry and the interests of local people. We often have to do that as Members of Parliament, and the Government perpetually do it. These things are never entirely straightforward, but I hope, in the short time I have available, to be able to set out how we can strike that balance.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey), and I agree with the Minister, but in my constituency I already have one of Europe’s largest logistics parks, which presently has between 9 million and 10 million square feet of warehousing. The proposal to double its size would unacceptably lower the quality of life of my South Leicestershire constituents. At what point do we say enough is enough? How large do these logistics parks need to get before we say that?

My hon. Friend has many virtues, and two that stand proud are the determination and rigour with which he defends his constituents’ interests—a well-known aspect of his work in this House—and, secondly, his insight. That insight will have allowed him to determine, from my opening remarks in which I quoted Schumacher, where I intuitively stand on these matters. I will say more about that later in my speech, but my hon. Friend draws to our attention the important subject of scale. It would be easy for central and local government to assume that there should be no limits on scale, but I am not sure that that is the right approach. I look at these matters in a holistic way.

Does the Minister also take into account the effects on air quality of these large logistic parks and the vehicle movements? For example, in Greater Manchester we have already failed to meet our air quality objectives on a number of occasions. The new logistics parks will increase the standing traffic and will therefore have an effect on the local community’s air quality.

Barely a day goes by when I do not think about air quality. I was in an inter-ministerial meeting yesterday afternoon to discuss exactly that. It is important that we recognise that the effect on the environment of large developments can be significant and must always be taken into account when we consider them.

Overall responsibility for planning in England rests with the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, so we are straying on to his territory to some degree, which I am reluctant to do. As the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire will both know, it is the Department for Communities and Local Government that issues national planning practice guidance on how the Government expects planning to help to deliver sustainable development, but the planning system has at its heart ensuring that the right development takes place in the right places. Not all places are suitable for particular kinds of development; that is the essence of what my hon. Friend has argued today.

The planning system has benefits to the community as well as to the wider economy. Local plans, prepared by local planning authorities in consultation with the community, are at the heart of that system. They must be prepared with a mind to contributing to sustainable development that is consistent with the principles and objectives set out in the national planning policy framework. A local plan should include the strategic policies to deliver homes and jobs, the provision of retail and commercial development, and the provision of infrastructure, including infrastructure for transport.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire is concerned that local planning authorities will work in isolation and not address wider regional issues. I reassure him that the national planning policy framework expects local authorities to work with neighbouring authorities and transport providers to develop strategies for the provision of the viable infrastructure necessary to support sustainable development. Indeed, I will go further than that: further to his arguments today, I will discuss with my DCLG colleagues whether the framework is as effective as it might be in respect of transport. It may be that we can do more. I do not want to say anything definitive today—you would not expect me to do so, Mr Bone—but given my hon. Friend’s remarks today and with respect for the case that he has made, we may be able to do more.

It is very important, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) said, that we consider this in the round with the transport infrastructure that supports the development, so I want to explore the matter further. I shall come back to the A5 in a minute, but I want to make it clear that, as a general principle, transport infrastructure and these developments must be hand in glove.

The second core point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire was that all developments that generate significant amounts of movement must be supported by a transport statement or assessment. Plans and decisions should take account of whether opportunities for sustainable transport modes have been taken up to reduce the need for major transport infrastructure changes. Such plans should also consider whether improvements within the transport network can be undertaken to limit the significant impacts of the development in a cost-effective way. Crucially, they should plan positively for the development and infrastructure required in the area. They are designed to take into account longer term trends and changes of the kind that my hon. Friend has set out.

Critically, the presumption built into the national planning policy framework is in favour not only of development but of sustainable development. How we define sustainability in respect of transport infrastructure is crucial, and I want to study that in greater detail, as I said a moment ago. Should my hon. Friend have further concerns about that or feel that additional clarity would be desirable, I will happily ask my colleagues in the Department for Communities and Local Government to meet him and discuss the matter. It is right that Ministers should always make ourselves available to Members, because by doing so we make ourselves available to the people we serve.

On development more generally, I recently waxed lyrical—at least I thought I was lyrical—on the subject of beauty. I add to what I said that all we build should be as good as it can be in its relationship with the local environment and in its aesthetic. That may sound odd in respect of what is essentially an industrial development of the kind that my hon. Friend spoke of, but actually we once took the view that everything we build should take into account its aesthetic relationship with everything around it. The idea that we should take a crude, crass reductionist view of industrial development and the landscaping that surrounds it is not acceptable to me. Given my responsibility for the built environment, which crosses all Department’s areas of responsibility, I will certainly take a look at that subject too in relation to what my hon. Friend said.

Let me say a few things about the work I have been doing on heavy goods vehicles. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling) raised what is known as fly-parking—the parking of heavy vehicles in inappropriate places. I have looked closely at that and have recently held two round-table summits on HGVs with large numbers of people from the sector to explore what more can be done, because I am determined that more can be done. It is absolutely right that we work with local authorities to take further steps to make that kind of parking, which I know causes such concern to my hon. Friend, her constituents and many others, a thing of the past; I intend to say more about that soon.

I want to develop a national plan, as was recommended in this debate, for good and sufficient overnight lorry parking, to ensure that we provide lorry drivers with the facilities they need and that inconsiderately or illegally parked lorries do not blight local communities—and I want to do it quickly. On the back of our discussions and the overtures made to me by hon. Members, my ambition is to identify how all the significant gaps in overnight lorry parking provision in England can be filled and for private provision to be made available as soon as possible, certainly over the next three to five years.

Quality standards have also been raised with me, as hon. Members will know. I am not satisfied that they are as should be for overnight parking facilities; there are some very good facilities, but by no means could all facilities be so described. I want to set national standards to ensure that our HGV drivers can park safely, securely and in reasonable comfort, with the baseline facilities that anyone would expect from a parking area.

I am looking closely at the provision of lorry parking spaces nationally. There are significant gaps in capacity, particularly in the east of England and the midlands. I have commissioned a fresh survey, which will be taken this winter, to update the figures on that. The standards that I have described, the further work on illegal parking and the work I want to do in a number of places will make a sea change to the provision.

Sitting suspended.