UKWA CEO responds to government post-coronavirus recovery plans

July 2, 2020

As Covid-19 lockdown eases and businesses review the damage, the driving concern now is how to rebuild the UK’s devastated economy. The Prime Minister has laid out his plans for post-coronavirus economic recovery, with a new mantra of ‘build, build, build’. Time now, he says, to be ambitious, to help generate new jobs, upskill employees and help young people onto the housing ladder. £5bn is pledged to build ‘fantastic new homes’ and infrastructure.

While this is welcome news, we wait to see whether the government has understood that alongside shops, doctor’s surgeries and schools, new housing developments also need warehousing and distribution centres to support the population.

In recent times UKWA has frequently pointed out that every new home represents a new delivery point; post-COVID this is now the case more than ever before. A key impact of the lockdown has been a huge surge in online shopping – particularly for groceries. Indeed, recent research by IMRG found that ecommerce sales rose by 41.3% year-on-year in the very week that shops reopened – and by 71% at multichannel retailers alone. A new generation of traditional high street shoppers have joined the ranks of those placing weekly orders using online, the retailers will have to adapt accordingly – and so will the government. The future picture should be one of mixed-use developments, with a ‘beds and sheds’ infrastructure to enable our sector to support retailers in providing the same or next-day home delivery services consumers now expect.

This will require the changes in planning use classes UKWA has long called for. In an ambitious rhetorical flourish, Boris Johnson has pledged, ‘the most radical reforms to our planning system since the second World War’. Time will tell whether this will yield the fresh approach we need. As the voice of the industry, UKWA will, of course, continue to push for government to address ‘nimbyism’ and build new communities that embrace logistics as a force for good in our brave new post-coronavirus world.

On the post-Brexit front, the results of our recent Freeports survey are in. As it stands, UKWA’s view is that the Freeports proposal lacks ambition and does not offer the most practical solution for a developed nation with an established infrastructure. Members would rather see an industry-specific support scheme than one simply aimed at ‘levelling up’ specific regions.

What is certain is that the PM’s post-coronavirus recovery plans must fit well with government proposals for supporting business in the face of post-Brexit impact. Right now, we need joined up thinking from the government and a willingness to listen to the voice of our industry.