Planning for new housing also needs planning for material supply

Posted On: 
12th January 2018

 Planners need to be aware of the wider strategic importance and environmental benefits of sustaining and safeguarding the delivery of construction materials by rail and water, says Mineral Products Association. 

Credit: 
Mineral Products Association

We all know more new housing is needed and that Government and others are looking at all sorts of options to ensure enough land is available in the right places and that the planned homes actually get built.  As with the need to improve infrastructure, housing need is not a new issue but one which has recently gained a lot of attention and general political buy-in. However, a related issue which gets consistently overlooked is that while  planning for more housing supply and improvements to our transport, energy and water systems there must be a complementary focus on the supply chains of material to enable construction to happen.

A practical example is the supply of aggregates and mineral products, and the safeguarding of key wharves and rail depots needed to supply essential materials for construction and development. Taking London as an example, 97% of the primary aggregates – 10 million tonnes annually -  are delivered into the capital through a network of wharves and rail depots, from which onward deliveries are made by road, rail and barge. There is also a very active industry within London supplying recycled aggregates sourced from demolition work. These wharves and rail depots are  situated in locations which are increasingly attractive for other forms of development, notably housing. For example no-one historically wanted to develop housing on the East Greenwich and Charlton riversides in South East London, but they do now! But there happens to be significant industrial activity in the location with aggregates wharves and rail depots operating 24/7 and plants producing recycled aggregates, asphalt and concrete. As with similar locations in London and throughout the UK, these plants may not be pretty but they are critical for the delivery of plans to provide private and affordable housing and infrastructure. While such sites are often safeguarded in planning policies, such safeguards are not always implemented rigorously by local planning authorities. The result can be a new housing development built adjacent to a wharf or rail depot which can restrict the operation of the sites as the new residents understandably don’t want noise or disturbance on their doorstep. So no-one wins, the residents are annoyed and complain and the businesses can’t operate as they could. The irony of course being that such housing development can therefore constrain the sustainable supply of materials for other housing development. Doh!  

The solution to this conundrum is better awareness in the planning system. Planners need to be aware of the wider strategic importance and environmental benefits of sustaining and safeguarding the delivery of construction materials by rail and water and the wharves and depots that enable these supply chains to function. An aggregates train delivery is equivalent to 75 long distance lorry deliveries and an aggregates dredger delivers the equivalent of 250 lorries, so these operations matter! Any possible new housing developments in the vicinity of wharves, depots and related operations need to demonstrate that the potential conflicts have been addressed, for example through design which mitigates the impact of noise on residents from nearby industrial activity. Aggregates businesses also have a responsibility, of course, to operate reasonably and take action, for example, to ensure that road safety risks from lorries are minimised.

As London Mayor Sadiq Khan rolls out a new London Plan and strategies for transport, housing, environment and air quality it will be critical for their success that key industrial sites such as aggregates wharves,  rail depots and other minerals infrastructure are properly protected by the planning system and these principles also need to be applied elsewhere in the UK.  

A copy of MPA’s recent report on the Safeguarding of Wharves can be found here.