Investor developer British Land has secured planning approval for an ultra-low carbon urban logistics hub at Paddington Central in the heart of London. The 12,000 m² facility will provide inbound access to trucks and will facilitate outbound deliveries only via smaller electric vehicles and electric cargo bikes.

Many other cities across the world are planning or piloting Logistics Hubs with for instance Amsterdam Cityhub, an 120.000 m² facility, ready to start operating in first half of 2023. These hub concepts are considered vital to to meet global sustainable goals and emission free urban transport requirements.

Study identifies challenges

A recent study commissioned by British Land and carried out by Centre for London and University College London, identified that the capital had challenging urban logistics issues: its centre is distant from out-of-town hubs and traffic congestion often leads to delays, while larger vans struggle on its smaller streets and can pose dangers to pedestrians and cyclists.

The research identified the potential for urban logistics hubs in central London to cut carbon and pollution from last-mile freight distribution, improve overall efficiency and reliability, and reduce delivery times and costs for operators. Using London as an example, delivering by cargo bike is 1.6 times faster on average than delivering by van, and can enable a reduction in total distance travelled of up to 20%.

The heart of London

The urban logistics hub London will be based at the former Crossrail works at 5 Kingdom Street, Paddington Center. The site will serve the whole of Westminster and will remove around 100 large vans from the Borough’s roads every day, reducing annual carbon emissions by up to 90%. The hub is expected to save three times the carbon absorbed by all the trees in Hyde Park. It is estimated that the site will create over 500 new jobs and training opportunities.

Mike Best, Head of Logistics at British Land said: “The post-pandemic demand for ultrafast deliveries comes with major impacts on emissions, air quality, congestion, and road safety, which urban logistics hubs can combat. Replacing traditional vans with sustainable electric vehicles and bikes can deliver carbon savings of up to 90% per parcel alongside the wider positive impact on air quality and wider environment for local communities.”

The answer for everything?

Research carried out by the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences shows that Urban Logistics Hubs shouldn’t be seen as a standard quick fix for city all logistics. For these hubs to be successful, they need to benefit the receiving party, they can’t lead to higher costs in the chain, there needs to be a sound revenue model for the logistics service providers in place and there must be continuity in the local and national policies in relation to city logistics.

However, when Urban Logistics Hubs focus on product flows with an origin at large distance from the city, such as products for facility management, web store deliveries (both food and non-food) and building materials, they will have a greater chance on succes. In such cases, the transition from “slow mobility” to “personalized mobility” is worth it, giving the urban distribution center a transshipment function, for the transition from bulk to finely meshed shipments.

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This post is based on a publication by and Walther Ploos van Amstel