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The town that said no

23 November 2023

Logistics Matters Property Editor Liza Helps has boots on the ground in Basingstoke, polling the local population to gain insights on why successive warehouse developments have had planning permission turned down in the town, despite a clear need for more space.

“NOTHING IS is as emotive as planning,” says Potter Space’s managing director Jason Rockett. And it is certainly that in Basingstoke.

This is the town that has said an equivocal N.O. to large scale regional warehouse development despite an evidenced need for it. The town sits roughly midway up the M3 motorway giving access to London, the southwest via the M4 motorway, and the port of Southampton. If ever there was an excellently located logistics hot spot then this is it –so much so that both internet giant Amazon and discount supermarket retailer Lidl signed up for warehouse space in the town with Lidl reportedly happy to pay £81 million for the privilege.

Both retailers acted as anchor tenants for developer Newlands Basingstoke Gateway scheme near Dummer at Junction 7 of the M3 motorway - the southern gateway to the town.

The first iteration of the scheme was put forward in 2020 with Newlands seeking outline planning permission for a circa 3 million ft2 logistics park on a 111-acre site at Oakdown Farm. This included a multi storey Amazon regional fulfilment centre totalling 2.3 million ft2 on a 625,000 ft2 footplate. It secured outline planning permission despite vociferous objections wherein a local councillor supported by the local MP said that ‘a distribution centre is not part of the vision for the town of Basingstoke’.

The council revoked the permission in August 2021 following a legal challenge by Dummer Parish Council. It was done on the grounds that it would destroy local biodiversity, and that there was ‘no overriding public need’.

Another proponent in favour of warehouse jobs was a care worker dealing with young adults transitioning from education into work. He said the entry level jobs to be found in warehouses were a ‘godsend’ for his young people coming out of care.

In addition to the legal threat from the parish council there was also a well supported campaign to save 80 oaks, which had been earmarked for removal within the parish, supported by Sarah, The Duchess of York, and 95,000 other signatories.

Not to be put off Newlands secured Lidl as an anchor tenant for its next iteration of the scheme which was reduced in size minus the need to destroy the oak avenue. This time the application was refused on the grounds that the ‘impact of the proposed development would be detrimental to the character and visual amenity of the landscape’. The development control committee went against planning officer’s recommendations.

Newlands appealed.

The appeal was held in October 2022 and was rejected by the planning inspector who accepted that there was sub regional and local demand for the amount of floorspace, but he felt that ‘the degree of landscape and visual harm arising from the scheme, its scale and massing had not been satisfactorily resolved through mitigation in accordance with policy therefore the degree of harm caused by this scheme would be of such significance that it conflicted with policies of Basingstoke and Deane Local Plan 2016.

Newlands has not given up and has just recently made public new plans for the site. The updated proposals include eight units providing 920,000 ft2 of floor space, a reduction from the previous plan. The new scheme will also prioritise sustainability, have dedicated green infrastructure and have a ‘truly landscape-led approach’ with residents being asked to promote ideas for the greening of the site such as beehives and orchards.

Against that background Logistics Matters carried out a vox populi of the residents of Basingstoke on a drizzily wet Friday morning in November.

Several dozen members of the public across all ages were approached and 30 kindly partook. 

Q1. What do you think about the amount of warehousing in the town?

2 said too little

14 said too much 

14 said its just about perfect

Q2 What do you think about the quality of the jobs offered?

14 said poor

3 said just about ok

13 said good 

Q3 Where do you get your information regarding the quality of the jobs offered?

4 said they worked in a warehouse

12 said they knew someone who worked in a warehouse

14 said they got their information from the media or social media 

Q4 Do you shop online?

27 said yes

3 said no

The biggest takeaways were that nearly all the participants shopped online and that 28 of the 30 participants thought there was just about enough or too much warehouse space in Basingstoke.

Of the 17 who thought the job quality was just about ok or poor, 12 did not know anyone who worked in a warehouse and got their information from the local national or social media. Four knew someone who worked in a warehouse, and one worked in a warehouse directly.

Of the 13 participants who thought warehouse jobs were good eight knew someone who worked in a warehouse, three worked in a warehouse directly and two got their information from social media.

Drawing conclusions from such a small sample can be dangerous – though researchers from a university whose report was shared in a national newspaper proclaiming warehouse jobs were ‘not human’ did so off exactly the same sized sample – 30.

It was heartening to note that of 75% of those who worked in a warehouse and two thirds of those who knew someone who worked in a warehouse thought the jobs were good quality. The one warehouse worker who felt the jobs were poor had been an agency worker a couple of years ago.

Further conversation revealed that two of her six placements had actually been enjoyable but the remaining four had not been worth the pay even if it was more than what the employed staff received. She no longer works in warehouses.

Another proponent in favour of warehouse jobs was a care worker dealing with young adults transitioning from education into work. He said the entry level jobs to be found in warehouses were a ‘godsend’ for his young people coming out of care.

Around a third of participants felt warehouses could provide the jobs needed n the town while a further third were concerned about how where the warehouses in Basingstoke would be built and felt it was important that ESG and environmental considerations needed to be taken in to account. Two wished warehouses to be built on brownfield land only.

Those who disagreed most about the amount of warehousing in Basingstoke also considered the quality of the jobs offered as poor. However, the most damning piece of data extracted from this sample was that the very same people had no direct link to the industry and sourced their information from the media.

All bar one of them shopped online.