Is There Really No Space Left?
Measure #2 – Smart Inventory System and Demand-Based Zoning
Comparing regional policy programs or land use plans with the standing structures in a given area reveals a dilemma: The potential development sites shown in the plans exceed the number of structures actually built. A careful look by an expert observer will quickly find suitable but undeveloped sites even in online maps. How do you explain the mismatch? Many of the underlying plans are not edited and updated for years. But the market evolves rapidly and may find a given site more useful for other purposes than its intended use. This causes many plots that are zoned for development to remain unsold despite manifest demand pressure. Elsewhere, an emerging need for land may go unmet because no plots are available.
Until recently, development plans consisted of bulky hard copy volumes which, even if recorded in digital cadastres and land registers, were not open to the public but for administrative in-house use only. There was no fully digitised back-up inventory of all publicly and privately traded plots and the structures built on them. Accordingly, many municipalities had patchy knowledge of the exact floor space stock within their planning jurisdiction. Even available pieces of land were not centrally recorded but kept locally in municipal files unavailable for processing.
Here, a changed approach is called for: The first step should consist of a fundamental stock-taking, based on a digitised complete land survey. Such a survey would ideally detect potentially available plots, whose status would be subsequently updated to match the land use plan. This approach will in many cases identify principally suitable sites. Whether such sites are eligible for logistics use depends on the local parameters. Even when a site is not zoned for development, it may be possible to change that. However, these efforts will not always succeed, and even if they do, they will normally involve lengthy processes.
The existing and potentially available sites determined via the fundamental stocktaking could prompt neighbouring municipalities to zone new demand-based inter-municipal development land. Further soil sealing could be avoided by preventing the zoning for purposes already covered by existing land use plans. Inversely, plots that are zoned for certain purposes in regional policy programs or land use plans but are not marketable could have their zoning status repealed. This could vindicate the zoning of suitable sites elsewhere because the total area zoned would remain the same.
Measure #3 – Consolidation of Commercially Used Land
Especially in older urban trading estates, a richly varied mix of businesses has often formed over decades. The presence of diverse industries with vastly different space requirements have often led to strongly fractured settlement patterns. Mergers or takeovers may sometimes have made premises too large, while insolvencies can make them obsolete altogether. As a result, units may have been sold or let in whole or in part. Historically, it used to be common practice to keep a land reserve on hand to be developed once the company expanded – which did not always happen. Commercial and industrial sites of this kind remain under-developed and could be put to more efficient use. The problem is that the parcels are not owned by the respective municipalities but by many individual owners.
Here, it makes sense to take an entirely new approach. It can be a good idea in such cases to create a moderated process for reorganising the plots according to demand. Occupiers whose space requirements have decreased or failed to evolve as expected could give up some of their land. Unused pieces of land could be merged to form market-consistent new plots and even be made available for logistics if the location lends itself to the purpose.
The approach may seem like land consolidation, whose benefits are always matched by much-lamented drawbacks. But at issue here is ultimately the need to rearrange development land as a finite resource in demand- and market-consistent ways, and to prevent the unwarranted consumption of land by new zoning ordinances. Of course, such a procedure would be largely uncharted territory, and would have to be developed in theory and practice first.
Measure #4 – A New Mindset Among All Stakeholders
In addition to the above measures, a change in attitude is often called for: Many stakeholders should adopt a new mindset regarding logistics. According to a common stereotype, the logistics business creates no jobs and merely consumes land. Municipalities prefer to wait for a “white knight” in the shape of a manufacturing business. However: The time of large industrial and production plants has come and gone. Under the Industry 4.0 paradigm, labour productivity is enhanced by deploying efficient, compact and smart machinery while space requirements decline. Certain sections of the value chain are outsourced, including to logistics service providers. It is here, then, that valuable jobs are created. Word may not have got around that logistics has become a high-tech industry and is not the same as warehousing. Organising an interest group for residential real estate seems easy enough to do in Germany. But you will look in vain for a logistics alliance. This needs to change, and the change presupposes a fresh mindset.
Is There Really No Space Left?
The supply in land available for industrial-commercial use is admittedly contracting. But to say we have run out of land would be misleading. Rather, we need to think of new ways to find or create available plots of land. This will necessitate a coordinated effort by all stakeholders. There should be general agreement that the logistics business counts among the major growth industries and that it creates jobs in large numbers. It is high time to acknowledge this and to support it, e. g. by providing more space.