Amazon’s* white vans, parking on a street near you next year

On 9 September last year, the Planning Committee approved the demolition of the Pfizer site at 32 New Lane and its replacement by an Amazon distribution centre.  HCS and the New Lane Residents had argued long and hard that the traffic numbers on which the application was based were completely unsound, a fact that any competent investigation would demonstrate with ease, but the simple table of 24 hourly totals of site arrivals and departures was taken at face value. The fact that the content of the table didn’t map to the operational business model was ignored.

At the end of the day, it was the single total from that table – 2,415 – that became the claimed number of vehicle movements at the site gates each day.  HBC Environmental Health and Hampshire County Council Highways both did their calculations based on that number and concluded that they were happy with the results they came up with.

Nobody, apart from Havant Civic Society, a large number of residents and, it turns out, a significant number of the residents of the East Riding of Yorkshire, ever questioned the shoddy quality of the transport documentation produced by Vectos, the transport consultant deployed by Amazon to overwhelm local authorities with often irrelevant detail.

Despite what the Vectos documents stated, the figure of 2,415 vehicle movements did not include the employees, the drivers, the Delivery Service Partners (a group added in November’s documents) and – as suggested in another new turn with last week’s documents – possible future customer collections.

The low ball number of 2,415 had enabled the approval of Environmental Health and HCC Traffic, but clearly didn’t match the operational model, a fact that made the strict conditions placed on the application approval unworkable to Amazon.

A far more credible stab at the daily vehicle count is now well over 5,000. As Amazon’s business model continues to morph and evolve, that number can only grow and as Amazon’s same-day delivery and grocery businesses take off, that growth will now be unchecked. The residents of Nutwick Road will no doubt now be hoping that the fencing provided by Amazon’s architects will mask the noise from refrigerated grocery loads parked on the site overnight as distribution and deliveries ramp up for the the Amazon Fresh offering.

With an outbreak of what we’d hoped might have been sanity, Mr. Eaves, the long-suffering HBC Planning Services Case Officer, added some intelligently worded conditions to the planning approval.  These conditions required that Amazon stick to the promises made by their agents – Kingsbridge Estates – that the delivery vans would be identifiably branded and that the data from counters at the site gates would be passed directly to the local authorities for analysis with the HCC Traffic database.

Perfectly reasonable conditions, to ensure that the local authorities can maintain control over the growth of Amazon traffic from the 32 New Lane site. However, to Amazon, being held to a daily total of 2,415 vehicle movements at the site gates was completely untenable meaning that submission of this current application to remove and rewrite the Planning Conditions was inevitable.

Sadly, we do not need a crystal ball to see that next week’s Planning Committee meeting is highly likely to approve the current application by Amazon’s local agents to have those controls removed. All the evidence seems to point to the fact that the decision has already been made, behind closed doors and without public scrutiny.

The Planning Committee now has the final opportunity to regain control over the traffic generated by this site and failure to grasp that opportunity will leave a lasting impact on the town. The Operational Management Plan, as currently written, together with Amazon’s suggested rewording / replacement of the Planning Conditions gives the occupier carte blanche to do as they please. Next week’s Planning Committee must resolve to defer this decision pending a complete, detailed and open reappraisal of Amazon’s operational model for the Havant site, including a detailed, independent analysis of the traffic numbers.

The Constitution gives the following guidance to Planning Committee members: “come to your decision only after due consideration of all of the information reasonably required. If you feel there is insufficient time to digest, or that there is insufficient information before you, then if necessary, defer or refuse.” In this case, there is ‘insufficient information’, ‘missing detail’ and ‘insufficient time’ to digest.

If you agree with us, we suggest you contact your local Councillors and the Planning Committee Members and make them aware of your views. Ask them to have the courage to do what’s right for the town and defer this decision until an impartial and open forum has fully understood and agreed the traffic implications of Amazon’s current and future business direction for Havant.

So where does the East Riding of Yorkshire fit into this?

Vectos transport documents make for heavy reading, often containing questionable data and mathematics, delivered with a sketchy approach to detail buried in pages of seemingly irrelevant padding. However, they clearly go down well with Amazon, who seem delighted with the confusion they impart on planning applications around the country. 

Take the case of the East Riding of Yorkshire, for instance, where residents arguing against Amazon’s Meltonwest planning application planning application stated openly that their Vectos documents were riddled with errors and inconsistencies. “…a number of inaccuracies and misleading presentations, littered throughout the Transport Assessment and Design and Access Statement which misrepresent the availability of public transport and journey times”.

Does that sound familiar?

The Vectos ‘Operational Management Plan’ document for 32 New Lane, first published on 23 November 2021 and now republished in a ‘revised’ version on 18 January 2022, is written to the same poor standard as previous Vectos documents associated with the New Lane site. We’ll be commenting in detail separately but, for now, we’ll just highlight one of the changes:

In section 2.4 under ‘Proposed Operation’, the latest ‘revised’ version of the document quite deliberately removes the highlighted sentence, below.

(Incidentally, the sentence removed had contained the only original words which Vectos had added to that particular paragraph. The rest of the paragraph text, along with much of the content of the transport documentation submitted for the 32 New Lane application, was lifted verbatim from documents previously submitted by Vectos for Amazon’s Hull planning application.)

Why remove that sentence? Well perhaps it’s because in addition to directly employed Amazon ‘Drivers’, we now have subcontracted Amazon ‘Delivery Service Partners’ involved, some of whom will be renting their vans from Amazon and others who make up the large ‘fleet’ of individual white van owner/drivers that we’re accustomed to seeing delivering to our doors.

A wholly owned fleet of delivery vans, stored on the site overnight?

That was just one of the promises that Chris Fry of Kingsbridge made to the Planning Committee on 9 September 2021. If you need to be reminded, in the next clip you can listen to Mr. Fry answering a couple of questions at that meeting, first from Cllr. Hughes and then from Cllr. Patrick.

You might want to listen to that answer given to Cllr. Hughes one more time.

Meanwhile, back in Yorkshire, once the Hull Daily Mail got hold of their scoop their own ‘intended occupier’ was unmasked.

The aerial view below shows the Meltonwest Business Park Amazon distribution centre nearing completion. If we measure by ‘van capacity’, with just 667 vans against Havant’s 866, the Havant operation is about 30% bigger. However, the East Riding of Yorkshire Council at least had the good sense to approve it at an edge of town location with good highway access.

Amazon could have had that logistical benefit at Havant, either at Dunsbury Park or at the Solent Distribution Park at Brockhampton West. We’ll consider why that might be in a separate post.

Headline disclaimer *

At this point, we should come clean and point out the deliberate mistake in our headline – “Amazon’s white vans, parking on a street near you next year”.

Amazon’s own vans, some of them possibly even branded and including some of those leased to the larger Delivery Service Partners, probably will be parked on the van parking decks at 32 New Lane. It’s the undisclosed numbers of unmarked ‘white vans’ owned and used by the smaller DSPs, including the long suffering individual owner/drivers who currently deliver most of your Amazon orders, that will be parked up on local streets.