Amazon – Kirklees 1, Havant 0

Fourteen months ago when we were reflecting on the planning committee’s ill-judged decision on the second Amazon planning application, one of the local authorities that we used as a reference source was Kirklees Council. How refreshing it was, therefore, to read in Saturday’s Times that a small local Yorkshire village pressure group had succeeded in getting Amazon’s planning application for a massive fulfilment centre alongside the M62 thrown out by their local authority.

To be fair, that pressure group had a couple of distinct advantages over Havant’s residents. Firstly, Kirklees Council has the kind of healthy, balanced blend of political party representation which fosters strong debate and sound decision making and secondly, its residents are represented by an MP who takes an active interest in local matters.

Would healthy debate and sound decision making have made a difference here in Havant? The decision had probably already been made by council officers at a higher level long before the plans had even been submitted but had a more representative planning committee properly debated and challenged the case officer’s recommendations, then Amazon and Havant could have gone back to the drawing board and made a strong case to Portsmouth City Council for development at Dunsbury Park.

With a more balanced council therefore, all sides might have won. You might reflect on that when you get your photo-ID ready to go and vote on Thursday 4 May.

The following paragraph in the Times article caught our eye:

“The Save our Spen group also found that much of the Amazon proposal seemed cut and pasted from other projects. Lewis didn’t recognise a B road mentioned in one document and googled it, only to find the road is actually in Bournemouth.”

Regular readers of the Havant Civic Society blog will not be surprised to read that paragraph, no doubt recognising the signature lack of accuracy and detail attributable to Vectos, Amazon’s former transport consultant, now thankfully absorbed into what one might hope is a more professional business. The frankly laughable Vectos transport documentation provided with Amazon’s New Lane planning applications was deemed robust by Hampshire County Council despite only addressing a small fraction of the traffic that Amazon will route Havant into the 32 New Lane site.

Of greater concern is that the same data provides the foundation for the 32 New Lane ‘Operational Management Plan’ which the local authorities hope to use as a yardstick for monitoring traffic generation from the site. Unfortunately, that horse bolted along with the approval of the second planning application and it will now be left to future administrations to attempt to coax it back into the stable.

It will be some time before Amazon’s UK-wide network of new-style delivery stations is complete and the purpose of the multi storey van park will then become more obvious. For now, the New Lane site is slowly ramping up to operate as a familiar inbound Amazon delivery station with the typical stream of battered white vans and private cars, picking up and delivering our Amazon bits and pieces and our Amazon Fresh grocery shopping, providing the ‘humans as-a-service‘ link in the Amazon Logistics’ supply chain.

What is less obvious and completely absent from the approved Operational Management Plan is the outbound function of the delivery stations in the wider Amazon Logistics model. If you recall our point a year ago in that earlier post, highlighting Amazon’s ‘logistics as-a-service’ model, the likelihood is that the site will be receiving Amazon Shipping and Amazon Freight business loads throughout the day and feeding them efficiently back into those otherwise empty HGVs leaving 32 New Lane overnight, outbound into the Amazon Logistics network.

If you’ve ever wondered what the future holds for the weaker parties in the logistics industry, we’ve already seen UPS vans entering and leaving the 32 New Lane site and it’s probably only a matter of time before Royal Mail Group vehicles follow that trend.

What can we learn from this?

With the benefit of hindsight, the Amazon planning campaign was never one we were going to win. Faced with a volley of detailed and penetrating questions from the community, Havant Borough Council did the only thing that came naturally, clapping its hands over its ears, closing its eyes and staying mute when questioned, delegating all responses to its own internal spokesman, playing the role of the ‘Amazon chatbot’ with a voice well skilled in giving timely but conveniently misleading and irrelevant responses.

Remaining stonily silent in the face of quite reasonable questions to this day, Havant Borough Council have left it to HCS to piece together the story and in due course we’ll set out what we believe to be a likely history of events. Whether the driving factor was ‘conspiracy’ or ‘cock-up’ remains to be uncovered but the one thing that seems certain is that Amazon, Portsmouth City Council and the Solent Freeport board met with little resistance from Havant Borough Council, apparently star-struck by the ‘opportunity’ of welcoming what its chatbot termed a ‘blue chip global company’ into the heart of St Faith’s and Bondfields.

‘Thousands of jobs’ and ‘Quality employment’ were also phrases attributed to the chatbot with reference to ‘the intended occupier’ over the past two years. Well that ‘quality employment’ turned out to be no more than the chance to bid for a few hours of self-employed gig-economy driving roles together with some pretty low grade, short-term contract warehouse roles. That’s not exactly the kind of career opportunity that will encourage the town’s young people to stick around and invest in the borough.

On the plus side, Amazon will bring in business rate income to the Council, albeit at a rate presumably discounted to compensate the company for the loss of its preferred Dunsbury Park location.

Perhaps the council should consider a gig economy resource model themselves, bringing in ‘thinking-as-a-service’ from the local community to contribute some intelligence to its planning services function.

If the incoming Havant Borough Council executive team feel like trying it out, click the above image, become a ‘Requestor’ and let Amazon do the rest. We’re sure that a few of our HCS members would sign up to sell our services as ‘Workers’.

Let’s call it ‘Stakeholder Engagement as-a-service’.

Postscript

Kingsbridge Estates, the commercial property offshoot of a West Sussex dairy farming family, bought the 32 New Lane site from John Wyeth and Brother Limited through a shell company for £11.4 million in November 2020. Having set up a lease with Amazon UK Services in April 2022, the site was sold on in December 2022 to Luxembourg registered LCN A to Z (Havant) S.A.R.L for £39.8 million, with the financial support of the London branch of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Limited.

Right now, there’s yet another planning application open at 32 New Lane, this time under Amazon’s own name, for approval for the installation of ’65 surface and pole mounted signs’. Don’t bother even thinking of wasting time on objections though, the signs are already in place, at least all bar the four 6 metre long ‘Amazon Smile’ logos for the sides of the warehouse. Some of them are even in the places defined on the plans submitted with the planning application though notably, the traffic direction signs at the New Lane entrances are not. (We’re not making this up!)

The decision, once again, has already been made and as soon as those big smiley logos appear, you’ll know that the Executive Head of Place will have signed it off.

Transcript from the 3 February 2022 Planning Committee – The second Amazon application

As we’ve been trying to tell you Mr. Eaves,
32 New Lane is not ‘just a last mile delivery centre’.
It never was.