Southwest economic growth hampered by shortage of commercial land

A shortage of land for commercial development, particularly around Plymouth, Exeter and Torbay, is hampering the South West’s economy, according to a property expert.

Tim Western, director – commercial space at JLL, said the amount of land that could be used for job-creating projects is at a 25-year low and is calling on local authorities to set aside sites for commercial development.

He said the problem was regional but acute in places such as Plymouth, Exeter, Torbay and Teignbridge and said: ‘It is hampering economic growth.

Mr Western, based in JLL’s Exeter office, said: “More and more businesses are looking for modern retail space, with sustainability credentials. There is a lot of housing on the rise but unfortunately employment land is the poor relation and has not had the same importance.

Mr Western said that in the 2000s the region saw a lot of public sector investment from Quangos English Partnerships, the South West Regional Development Agency and priority sites, which used funding government to prepare for land development. He said: ‘The public sector used to bring in a lot of land and maintain it.

Mr Western said much of the available land was now reserved, citing key projects already underway at Exeter Logistics Park, Exeter Skypark and Sherford, on the outskirts of Plymouth.

And he said the Exeter and East Devon Growth Point, a public-private partnership, was set up in 2008 and is coming to fruition. But he asked, “What’s the next pipeline?”

But there is a thirst for land as businesses in sectors such as manufacturing, warehousing and logistics expand in the region, particularly after pandemic shutdowns accelerated online business for many companies.

And he said it’s primarily the growth of businesses in the South West, rather than an influx of businesses from outside the region, that’s driving the thirst for new locations.

Mr Western said businesses were growing and needed more space to increase the number of employees, or had filled their warehouses, creating demand for third-party service warehousing “in the right place”.

“It’s positive,” he said. “Indigenous businesses are creating the demand. So we need more land allocated as commercial land by local authorities. They need to offer more sites. There really needs to be a focus on providing employment land.

Business Live’s South West business reporter is William Telford. William has over a decade of experience reporting on the business scene in Plymouth and the South West. It is based in Plymouth but covers the whole region.

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He said ideal sites would be close to transport arteries, such as the M5, A38 and Cornwall’s A30 corridor.

“There is a demand in Cornwall,” he said. “For example around Cornwall Services, it’s a growth area for distribution networks.”

Mr Western is calling on local authorities – in particular councils in Plymouth, South Hams and those around Exeter – to work together and develop a strategy.

“There needs to be more priority to counter the number of new homes being built,” he said. “All these people will have to work somewhere. And commercial occupiers aren’t interested in where they pay business rates, they just want space, and we don’t want them moving far from their customer base.

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