Amazon Havant – HCS brings you the facts that HBC considered irrelevant

Updated – 11 February 2021
Updated – 17 February 2021 – Added link to Planning Committee decision analysis
Updated – 18 February 2021 – Added discussion of ‘new’ Amazon delivery model

By the time you’ve finished reading this, you should be much better placed to judge whether or not the Officers and elected representatives of both Havant Borough Council and Hampshire County Council should have taken their scrutiny of the 32 New Lane planning applications to the same level as we have.

Our full report on the Planning Committee decision to approve changes to Planning Conditions at 32 New Lane can be found at this link.

32 New Lane – The missing detail

Our analysis of various sources now strongly suggests that the 32 New Lane site is to be one of a network of Amazon’s ‘new style delivery depots’. Forget the ‘Last Mile Delivery ‘ myth that has been stretched rather thin since the first planning application was raised twelve months ago. ‘Last mile’ was exposed as a misnomer to anyone who bothered to read the initial Transport Statement where it was clearly shown that the operation would support both the ‘local’ area and a wider area spanning a circa 50 mile radius. These new style delivery depots are actually classed by Amazon as ‘distribution warehouses’ rather than ‘delivery centres’, and by trade sources as ‘depots’ since each will maintain and manage defined stocks of items to satisfy ‘same day delivery’ orders. 

You can also disregard the fabled Vectos ‘Occupier Provided Traffic Data’ which was supposedly based on data from ‘one hundred equivalent operational sites across the UK and Europe’.  This type of Amazon operational site is completely new, with only one currently known to be operational in the UK. Several more are in various stages of planning and construction, as we’ll discuss below.

The declared total of ‘2,415 traffic movements per day’ is another myth, albeit a highly convenient one for the applicant.  It was a convenient number because it seemed plausible enough to the casual reviewer and was sufficiently close to the existing approved traffic profile for the site to present no obstacles to acceptance by both the Environmental Health and Highways Office consultees.  

Those who follow this site will know that HCS had challenged the relevant council departments over the gaping holes in the Vectos numbers, but at the end of the day the easy route was taken and the inconvenient truth ignored. Had the Officers taken the time to drill into the real numbers, the outcome should have been quite different, many hours of effort could have been avoided and Amazon would sensibly have fallen back on their alternative location option which, believe it or not, we now understand was Dunsbury Park.  

You really couldn’t make this story up. In the images below, the first shows the two alternative sites being considered by Amazon, with Dunsbury Park right next to the A3(M), the 32 New Lane site apparently ‘chosen’, and a drawing of the warehouse and its ‘distinctive van storage decks’. Compare with the images later in this post.

The integrity of the daily vehicle movements profile was first challenged by HCS in a document published on the HBC Planning ‘public access’ portal ten months ago.  Despite many subsequent documented attempts by Vectos to disguise the evidence underpinning that challenge, the fact remained the same; the daily vehicle movements total of 2,415 was significantly understated when reviewed against the design capacity of the facility proposed and the round-the-clock shift-based operation. Vehicle trips by shift workers commuting to and from the site had not been included.  

The applicants’ deliberate omission of employment numbers from the original Application document didn’t help since estimates of the number of people working on site could only be made by interpreting the parking provision in the designs and the increasingly discredited data in the Vectos transport documentation.

It’s likely that even Amazon’s estimates for traffic generation at the site would carry a wide margin of error since only one of these sites, right alongside the A1(M) near Peterborough, is currently operational. The one thing we can be sure of, however, is that there will be a constant and significant growth in the traffic volumes from the New Lane site once the operation begins in late 2022, fuelled by the seemingly endless public demand for ‘same-day or faster’ delivery.

Amazon’s redefinition of ‘Last Mile’ delivery

The more we look at the rapidly expanding network of anonymised Amazon planning applications across the country, the clearer a pattern becomes. The scale of Amazon’s investment in their UK logistics network is simply eye-watering.

As we show below, the Yeovil ‘distribution depot’ is just the latest we’ve uncovered. Click the image for a little more detail:

LogisticsManager – February 15, 2022

There will be a number of others lying unidentified within the various local authority planning systems across Hampshire. The common factor linking these sites is the existence of the multi-storey van parks, the capacity of each reflecting its position on the national network. The New Lane site in Havant is the biggest we’ve found so far, reflecting its proximity to the densely populated area of Portsmouth and the rapidly increasing population of the surrounding areas.

Which brings us to the question of the function of these structures.

Forget the ‘last mile delivery’ story peddled by Kingsbridge and Vectos, these vans are unlikely to be delivering your Amazon packages to your doors, though some of them may well be delivering the rapidly growing grocery product line. We think it far more likely that many of them will actually be ferrying pre-sorted ‘delivery blocks’ out to dynamically allocated rendezvous points up to an hour’s drive away, ready for the gig-economy side of the delivery chain – the Flex drivers – to pick up. In other words, those are the vans which will be the real, mobile ‘last mile delivery centres’.

As it says in the Amazon Flex instruction below, they’ll announce the location of the parked van an hour before the local delivery drivers need to pick their ‘blocks’ up.

Amazon’s vision will be that, in the fullness of time, all these ‘last mile hub vans’ would be electric and a fair proportion of the Flex drivers and riders will be using electric vehicles.

This would be a fascinating last mile distribution model, particularly understanding how they would designate the rendezvous locations. Presumably they would ‘pop-up’ in suitable car parks within the delivery area. Maybe that’s something that HCC and all of their local authorities ought to be thinking about?

Is this just hypothetical?

We don’t think so. It actually answers some of the outstanding questions we’ve been asking for the past year. It’ll be the overall objective of this massive investment programme and given the next ten years, it should all be in place.

(Unsurprisingly, you won’t find any of this in the Operational Management Plan for 32 New Lane.)

Some of the other ‘distribution depot’ sites

The first one we found was on the outskirts of Hull and close by the Humber Bridge.

The Melton West site is shown below, and again note the ease of access to the Strategic Road Network.

It’s worth noting that since the above site was approved by East Riding of Yorkshire Council, the large space immediately to the east is now the subject of an even larger anonymous (Amazon) application, drawn by the architects of the 32 New Lane site.

Next up, here’s Peterborough. This was the first ‘pilot’ site in operation in the UK.

Once we’d found these two, the rest soon followed and now includes planning approvals at Kilmarnock, Tyseley, Bognor, Yeovil and others, all modelled on the Peterborough pilot depot.  The sites are roughly equivalent in size and are readily identifiable by the distinctive ‘van storage decks’ included in their plans, Havant being the largest we’ve found so far.  The operational model appears to have been derived from a larger site constructed five years ago at Tilbury, close to the M25. 

So what type of jobs and what kind of traffic will the Havant site generate? 

Let’s look at jobs first

First point to note is that Amazon offer few salaried positions so the number of ‘career’ opportunities here you can probably count on the thumb of your hand.  In fact given that they stated on the planning application that they were ‘consolidating operations’ from other locations, we can probably assume that the permanent employees at Havant will transfer in from other locations. When Amazon do have warehouse staff vacancies, for say supervisory posts, they will offer those first to ‘exceptional candidates’ already known to them through previous temporary contracts.

The warehouse staffing will be through temporary contracts recruited through local employment agencies. Amazon set temporary contract periods to overlap at seasonal peaks, with ‘Black Friday’ and Christmas obviously standing out.  Internet searches suggest that agency staff at Amazon are often brought in on 9 month contracts, released after the contract period and only re-engaged after a 3 month lay-off.

For the drivers, there are several options.  HGV drivers will be based at the fulfilment centres – Havant will be a ‘Distribution depot’ – so don’t expect any HGV opportunities here.  There are unlikely to be any driving roles as ‘Amazon employees’, so any driving opportunities will come through a set of sub-contract options.

The first of these is the Delivery Service Partner network, first brought to our attention for 32 New Lane by the Planning Statement for the planning application passed last week, which is staffed through the Amazon Logistics resource pool.  The Delivery Service Partners split into at least two groups, the bulk of which are formed from established local logistics companies willing to invest in the network financially and bidding to become subcontractors to Amazon.  The Amazon Logistics site gives more information and it really is worth checking out the FAQs presented there. 

For individual drivers who want to join the Delivery Service Partner network, they can search for local opportunities using the DriverExpress website, which will tell them where the opportunities are and show them how to apply.

Anyone over 18, with six points or fewer on their licence can apply, assuming that they’re happy to commit to being self-employed.  The daily rate will start at around £125, but from that they’ll have to cover their own fuel, tolls and parking tickets.  Amazon offer a ‘flexible lease scheme’ for branded vans, but in reality, most Delivery Service Partners will already have their own fleet and will not accept the optional extra cost of renting a branded vehicle.  

We might expect Amazon Logistics to be expanding their ‘logistics as a service’ proposition to local, regional and national businesses in just the same way as the other major logistics companies do.  The emerging network of delivery depots with their secure overnight van parking decks will position them well for this, particularly given the electric charging infrastructure being built in and slowly enabled. So while it’s likely that some of the 3.5 tonne vans parked up in those garages will be branded, I wouldn’t expect many of them to branded ‘Amazon’. 

They’re also highly unlikely to be delivering shopping to your front door.  So who will be doing that?

The answer is, Amazon Flex drivers.

The Amazon Flex platform works in much the same way as Deliveroo, Just Eat, Uber and other gig-economy, zero-hours delivery jobs.  Drivers can register on the Amazon Flex app, decide what hours they want to be available for work, and bid for ‘delivery blocks’ on any day that they are available to drive. The catch, for example, is that 1,000 local registered app users may find that there are only 300 ‘delivery blocks’ available during the time period they want. Obviously Amazon will seek to maximise the number of registered drivers on their books, simply to ensure that there will always be sufficient available drivers to meet the depot’s current need.

The Amazon Flex drivers will initially collect their packages from the New Lane site, the bulk of those orders having arrived overnight from the fulfilment centres as part of the HGV deliveries. It’s now obvious that in the short to medium timeframe, Flex drivers will therefore represent a considerable and previously unaccounted for element in the daily ‘trips’ which should have been accounted for in the Vectos Operational Management Plan, bringing their own vans and cars onto the site to pick up their packages before leaving the site to make their delivery runs.

Note. In the long term, as we discussed earlier under “Amazon’s redefinition of ‘Last Mile’ delivery”, the Flex drivers and riders will likely be picking up from the ‘mobile last mile’ hubs.

These Amazon Flex trips are a significant element of the daily traffic movement model that Vectos conveniently seems to have overlooked in the transport documentation which accompanied the 32 New Lane planning applications.  It’s likely that the Flex driver daily trip generation number would form a much larger proportion of the missing traffic data than the missing site shift staffing trip data that we’d been highlighting since February 2021.

It’s well worth reading the Amazon Flex website to understand how this employment model works, paying particular attention to the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ by opening each entry to understand ‘the small print’.  The terms and conditions of Amazon Flex drivers are easily readable and very clear in these FAQs.  Remember, these are the folk who currently deliver all your Amazon orders and there are a lot of them.

Conspicuously absent from the FAQ is any statement about delivery routing. Other sources written by Flex drivers do, however, cover this point. For example, “Your delivery route will be plotted out by the app. If you’d rather find your own way, you won’t get penalized for choosing a route of your own—but be careful about keeping within the constraints of your time slot.”. It seems unlikely that the site management at 32 New Lane will have any control over routing of deliveries by Amazon Flex drivers. Any local Flex drivers, knowing that for example, a hot sunny day on Hayling has gridlocked the Langstone roundabout, will be heading down New Lane or across to Southleigh Road.

We leave it up to the reader to decide whether or not these are quality jobs. Just don’t be surprised if Havant Borough Council equate 1,000 registered users of the Amazon Flex app as 1,000 jobs in their inevitable forthcoming publicity.

So what makes us believe that the traffic generation from 32 New Lane will be growing? 

It’s Amazon. They wouldn’t be rolling out this new distribution model and investing in 15 year leases on the associated property portfolio if they didn’t expect significant growth.

The Amazon ‘Prime Now’ grocery service is being moved into these ‘new style delivery depots’, which will drive up the number of vehicle movements by Amazon Flex drivers throughout the day, delivering the ‘Morrisons at Amazon’ orders through to 10:30 in the evening.  With an anticipated major promotion of the ‘Prime Now’ service when the site opens for business, there will be a significant consequential increase in daily traffic generation at the 32 New Lane site and HBC and HCC will have no way of measuring the impact of this.

There are a great many questions raised by last week’s decision, coming on the back of the decision which should never have been made last September.  Not the least of those questions is this one: 

It is now clear that Amazon viewed both 32 New Lane and Dunsbury Park as viable alternatives. Given that the Dunsbury Park site would clearly be advantageous to a serious commercial operator like Amazon, how on earth did Havant Borough Council manage to persuade them that 32 New Lane was a viable option?

Perhaps more importantly, HBC Environmental Health and HCC Highways really should now insist on a complete and detailed analysis of the actual expected daily traffic movements. Whatever that number turns out to be, we can be pretty certain it won’t be 2,415!

Have Amazon actually signed yet?

That’s still the most intriguing question of the lot. Amazon operate with a level of commercial skill and governance significantly higher than any other party to this transaction. They are commercially astute, will recognise a pig’s ear when they see one and will have all their bases, all their risks and all their costs covered. The higher commercial risk associated with running out of New Lane rather than Dunsbury Park will not have gone unnoticed so if HBC are playing the Freeport card here, it may well turn out to be a Joker.

At Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet meeting on Tuesday 8 February, PCC Finance Director Chris Ward warned that the Freeport decision puts ‘onerous’ conditions on the council, and is ‘likely to limit the type of tenant we can attract to Dunsbury Park’. That constraint, and the wider business opportunity it could offer them, won’t be lost on Amazon either.

The 32 New Lane site may offer sufficient space for Amazon’s planned growth, but that growth is contingent on clear and reliable access to the strategic road network. Despite the marketing spin in the developers’ transport documentation, the proposed operation is already throttled by the local road network, a constraint that will impede business growth and customer satisfaction. Amazon, despite their scale, simply can’t buy additional capacity on the local roads.

Epilogue

Now that you’ve read that piece, you might like to listen to the five minute video clip below which contains brief extracts from the Planning Committee meeting of 3 February 2022. (Click the ‘play’ arrow in the centre of the image)

You’ll hear two extracts from the deputation by the HCS Chair, followed by a deliberate attempt by the Committee Chair, Cllr. Crellin, to discredit the deputee. You’ll then hear a rather telling intervention in what passed for the debate by the Planning Services Case Officer, David Eaves. Cllr. Patrick then seems, almost as an aside, to bring up a fundamentally important point of debate, a point that fell on five other pairs of deaf ears.

This 5 minute extract ends with the inevitable and shambolic vote which put the final nail into the coffin of what could have been a decent, sustainable, accessible town centre employment site, with quality jobs to inspire the local schools and colleges and help regenerate the town.

Listen to the HBC Planning Committee Chair laying into the HCS Chair before deciding for yourself whether or not his ‘situation was hypothetical’. The paperwork that Cllr. Crellin refers to in her accusation can be read here.

The complete, unedited, meeting record

For the record, here’s the whole, depressing meeting for those who’ve not already had enough.

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N.B. This is far from an exhaustive list.

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