HGH Consulting


Planning for the Future – or struggling to keep up?

Roger Hepher, Director of hgh, discusses 10 new types of land that are disrupting the system as part of wider change in our lifestyles.

Once upon a time, life in Planning was simple. Offices were offices; factories were factories; homes were homes (mainly houses).

Today, things have become much more confused and complicated, as changes in technology, working practices, consumer behaviour, social relationships and wealth have led to a plethora of new types of land use which often do not sit comfortably with Planning policy.

10 Disruptive Trends

The following are now commonplace, yet did not exist or hardly existed until quite recently:


  • Mega distribution warehouses, located close to motorways. These very large buildings are extremely space-hungry, eat up industrial land, generate heavy flows of HGVs, and – as robotisation proceeds apace – often don’t generate a large amount of employment.


  • Last mile delivery hubs: much in demand by the likes of Amazon and DHL. Now an important piece of urban infrastructure, which – given that so much inner city warehouse space has been redeveloped for other uses – the planning system is beginning to positively plan for. However, it can be problematical, especially where it is to be part of mixed-use development: HGVs arriving at night, the noise from bulky goods being handled, small vans and bikes coming and going.


  • Neighbourhood concierges – the other side of this coin: a facility where home deliveries can be dropped off and safely stored until collected. The problem with these is not so much a Planning problem, as one of management and of who pays for the service. However, the Planning system can play its part in insisting on such provision, just like it insists on bin stores and playgrounds.


  • Neighbourhood grocery and food hubs: the sort of bases used by the likes of Deliveroo, JustEat and Getir. Are they warehouses, or are they vehicle depots? It can be much more than a theoretical question, because the companies concerned are often attracted to quite small premises in residential areas, and they often give rise to complaints from residential neighbours about deliveries, late night activity, the habits of off-duty riders, etc.


  • Dark kitchens: similar considerations apply. Are they light industrial, food and drink, hot food takeaways or something else?


  • Showrooming: shops which are really showrooms, used by people who want to see and feel physical items, but who prefer the convenience and economic advantages of shopping on-line. This is a use which is not necessarily covered by the otherwise catch-all embrace of Class E.


  • Co-living: i.e. effectively purpose-built student accommodation for people who are not students. This is a residential use, but not in a conventional sense. How do you reconcile it with policies towards affordable housing, unit size mix, children’s play space? And bearing in mind that people may not spend much time at home, or stay in one co-living place for very long, should the system be flexible with space and amenity standards, and should it expect the same sort or level of social infrastructure?


  • Apart-hotels: do you treat them more like hotels or more like homes? And again, to what extent should the system be pragmatic about standards and infrastructure.


  • AirBnB (other brands are available): similar questions arise, with the additional complication of distinguishing the householder who occasionally rents out their spare room or the shepherd’s hut in their garden from buildings which exist solely to provide self-contained accommodation for a constant stream of visitors.


  • EVCP (electric vehicle charging points): now another essential item of urban infrastructure. Probably generally not so problematical as the petrol stations they will in time replace, but they raise issues: facilities need to be provided for people to shop, eat and/or wait while their EV recharges; to what extent might EV points on private land be used by the public without a change of use occurring?


Fleet- or wrong-footed?

The planning system needs to be fleet-footed if it is to keep up, let alone if it is to get ahead of the curve and seek to guide change.

Sadly, the fact is that it is not. It is under-resourced and, in general, the people involved in policy making and local planning decisions simply lack the perspective to anticipate the changes that lie ahead. The result is confusion and inefficiency, slowing down the planning system at a time when arguably it needs to be more responsive and pro-active.


Roger Hepher, Executive Director, hgh Consulting
[email protected]

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