Thought Leadership

Thought Leadership Corner: HOW LONDON’S 10,000 EMPTY COMMERCIAL PROPERTIES CAN FIGHT CONGESTION

Urban logistics is one of the most pressing concerns facing city planners today. Getting it right, at the planning stage, can mean the difference between frictionless, sustainable delivery and stock fulfilment, or increasing congestion and rising costs.

In the 1950s, 751 million people had made their homes in cities. By 2018, that number had swollen to 4.2 billion, meaning more than half of all the people alive today live in cities. That probably includes you, too.

Here in Europe, 74% of the population live in cities. Across the Atlantic in North America, a truly enormous landmass famed for its wide-open spaces, the proportion is even higher – 82%. And by the year 2050, 6.7 billion people – that’s 68% of the global population – are forecast to live in cities, making the concrete jungle the most important human habitat of them all.

Busy people, busy lives

With all those people living in such close proximity, there are several obvious important considerations for making sure a city functions properly. Schools, hospitals, housing, power and water supplies and a whole host of other critical infrastructure elements. We should also add urban logistics to that list.

Cynics may feel that there’s a world of difference between ensuring there are enough ambulances to serve a city and making ecommerce deliveries easier. But tell that to someone waiting for an ambulance that’s stuck in a traffic jam caused by poor city planning, an inadequate traffic management system and vehicles that are simply too big for the roads they’re driven on.

More than any other man-made environment, a city is a complex connected web of interdependent threads

The office of the Mayor of London has drawn up a draft New London Plan which details, among other things, planning and development strategies for the future. It’s an attempt to address the changing needs of a changing population and an acceptance that planning decisions of the recent past need to be rectified.

The typical location for warehouses and distribution centres is close to major transport infrastructure – railway stations, airports and motorways. These huge, hangar-sized buildings are part of the landscape and will continue to be so for years to come. But alone, they are simply not going to meet the future needs of urban logistics.

They were built to work best to a particular set of circumstances – large vehicles making high-volume drops, which are used for regular, low-frequency replenishment. It’s a model that presupposes you can put a large amount of whatever it is you’re selling in one place and people will come to buy it. It’s a kind of ‘if you build it, they will come’ approach to retail. But it no longer works as well as it used to. Blame it on the internet. Blame it on people not wanting to spend hours shopping in what little free time they’ve got. Blame it on a whole host of things. That’s the current state of play in retail – little and often has replaced the big shopping trip.

Although that applies predominantly to food shopping, it’s part of a change in attitude that affects the way people shop for just about everything. Convenience is king.

The inconvenient truth about convenience

There’s twist to this plot, however. For although you can easily construct an argument that shows people like convenience, you might struggle to show they like convenience stores – just Google ‘death of the high street’ if you want to see more.

There are an estimated 10,000 empty commercial properties in inner London. That’s a conservative estimate and it balloons to around 24,000 across the entire metropolis. Across the whole of the UK, the number must run into hundreds of thousands. Whichever way you look at it, that’s a lot of wasted space.

Many, possibly all, the high streets in the UK can trace their roots back to the 1950s – when just 751 million people worldwide lived in cities. Some are built on even older legacies. While there has been such incredible change going on all around them, how many high streets have stayed mostly the same? It’s a question that’s impossible to answer. But to survive, let alone thrive, the high street needs to be a reflection of the dynamic, ever-changing communities they hope to serve.

 

Parcelly adds: 'Urban logistics and the impact of eCommerce and rising parcel volumes on local high streets, inner-city traffic and air pollution levels have become omnipresent conversations. In view of growing supply chain pressures, consumer demands and finite resources in terms of commercial road, fleet and personnel infrastructure, the need for hyper-local fulfilment solutions, smart distribution models and innovative last- and first-mile delivery options has never been higher.

By turning redundant space in local shops and businesses into parcel storage capacity, Parcelly created a sustainable nationwide sharing economy platform with a technology that can be integrated into any retail or logistic company's supply chain fulfilment process. Our dynamic network of PUDO locations is an enabler for hyper-local delivery solutions, accessible to all players in the market, and a hub for storing, consolidating, cross-docking and mini-warehousing of items. By supporting a last-mile infrastructure that utilises empty space and helps to reduce the distance between storage location and final customer, our innovative PUDO model drives sustainable on-demand delivery options, a 'greener' more efficient fulfilment process, and ultimately customers back to stores, allowing the latter to promote a new, innovative service to their local communities which is tapping into the latest eCommerce trends and reviving local high streets.'

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