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Beyond global gains and local pains -spatial inequality of hinterland logistics

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Trade infrastructure and logistical activities have long been a source of prosperity as well as nuisance. The benefits and burdens of logistics are not distributed equally in space. Important trade hubs such as Rotterdam have built strong trade institutions and accumulated urban wealth, hereby making a successful trade-off between the global gains of trade and the local pains of congestion and pollution. Since the rise of global supply chains, such hubs have grown beyond their city boundaries and formed logistical hinterlands. These extensive areas appear to represent a less favourable trade-off between benefits and burdens, judging by the increasing criticism and protest against distribution centre developments, which would cause landscape degradation and congestion. In the hinterland of Rotterdam, the building footprint of logistics has increased fourfold since 1980, while congestion and labour shortages have also increased steeply. This paper discusses whether hinterland logistics can be regarded as a spatial justice issue, and how this may be reflected in the local spatial planning debate in The Netherlands. Literature on spatial justice vis-à-vis logistics and local governance suggests that Dutch hinterland communities have the opportunity to meaningfully influence the trade-off between logistic benefits and burdens. In two cases of a local planning debate in 2021, concerning logistics development sites in Tilburg and Horst aan de Maas, the paper selects and analyses local council and media reports that point to issues of spatial justice. The paper concludes that spatial justice represents a significant part of the argumentation in the local planning debate regarding hinterland logistics in The Netherlands, attempting to influence the trade-off towards increasing the benefits as well as decreasing the burdens locally. The varying outcomes of the two cases, despite the similar institutional context, can be explained by specific local views on the topic and political path dependence. Local politicians ended up approving the plan in Tilburg with additional quality requirements, and delaying the one in Horst aan de Maas until higher standards are met. While local activism, supported by expert advice, appears to enable a more just local trade-off regarding hinterland logistics, its more radical forms seem to limit the public debate.
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AESOP 2022
Abstract 84257, track 9 Spatialities
Beyond global gains and local pains - spatial inequality of hinterland
logistics
Merten Nefs, TUDelft
ABSTRACT
Trade infrastructure and logistical activities have long been a source of prosperity as well as
nuisance. The benefits and burdens of logistics are not distributed equally in space. Important trade
hubs such as Rotterdam have built strong trade institutions and accumulated urban wealth, hereby
making a successful trade-off between the global gains of trade and the local pains of congestion
and pollution. Since the rise of global supply chains, such hubs have grown beyond their city
boundaries and formed logistical hinterlands. These extensive areas appear to represent a less
favourable trade-off between benefits and burdens, judging by the increasing criticism and protest
against distribution centre developments, which would cause landscape degradation and
congestion. In the hinterland of Rotterdam, the building footprint of logistics has increased fourfold
since 1980, while congestion and labour shortages have also increased steeply.
This paper discusses whether hinterland logistics can be regarded as a spatial justice issue, and how
this may be reflected in the local spatial planning debate in The Netherlands. Literature on spatial
justice vis-à-vis logistics and local governance suggests that Dutch hinterland communities have the
opportunity to meaningfully influence the trade-off between logistic benefits and burdens. In two
cases of a local planning debate in 2021, concerning logistics development sites in Tilburg and Horst
aan de Maas, the paper selects and analyses local council and media reports that point to issues of
spatial justice.
The paper concludes that spatial justice represents a significant part of the argumentation in the
local planning debate regarding hinterland logistics in The Netherlands, attempting to influence the
trade-off towards increasing the benefits as well as decreasing the burdens locally. The varying
outcomes of the two cases, despite the similar institutional context, can be explained by specific
local views on the topic and political path dependence. Local politicians ended up approving the plan
in Tilburg with additional quality requirements, and delaying the one in Horst aan de Maas until
higher standards are met. While local activism, supported by expert advice, appears to enable a
more just local trade-off regarding hinterland logistics, its more radical forms seem to limit the
public debate.
Keywords: hinterland logistics, spatial planning, spatial justice, landscape degradation, congestion,
trade
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Introduction to the gains and pains of logistics
Trade infrastructure and logistical activities have long been a source of prosperity as well as
nuisance. The gains and pains of logistics, however, are not distributed equally across regions and
cities. Important trade hubs such as Rotterdam or Chicago have built strong trade institutions and
accumulated urban wealth, hereby making a successful trade-off between the global gains of trade
and the local pains of congestion and pollution (Cronon, 1991; Kuipers et al., 2018). Since the rise of
global supply chains, such hubs have grown beyond their city boundaries and formed logistical
hinterlands. These extensive areas appear to represent a less favourable trade-off between gains
and pains, judging by the increasing criticism against distribution centre developments, regarding
landscape degradation, congestion (CRa et al., 2019) and precarious jobs (Bergeijk, 2019). In the
hinterland of Rotterdam, the building footprint of logistics has increased fourfold since 1980 (Nefs,
2022), while congestion and labour shortages have also increased steeply and the planning system
has been decentralized, giving more responsibility to local governments (Nefs et al., 2022). This
paper discusses whether hinterland logistics can be regarded as a spatial justice issue, and how this
may be reflected in the local spatial planning discourse.
The concept of spatial justice emerged in the early 1970s, when Harvey and other geographers
applied Rawls' (1971) theory on fair distribution of gains and pains to planning, which has gained
traction in recent years (Rocco and Newton, 2020; Soja, 2010). This not only relates to
infrastructures and spaces, but also the distribution of “financial, environmental and social benefits
and burdens issued from urban development.” (spatialjustice.blog) Since public goods and negative
externalities such as noise are not equally distributed geographically, accessibility as well as
proximity play an important role in a spatial justice discourse. As Bret (2018) explains, geographical
scales used in such discourses should also be seen as social constructs, which may be used to
legitimize the outsourcing of pains to other territories and not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) positions.
The procedural aspects of spatial justice, or how a planning system may enhance the fair distribution
of gains and pains, have been explored by Healey (1996) and Ostrom (2015). Moroni (2020) reminds
us that distributive justice cannot cover the full range of social justice issues, since not all goods are
scarce, divisible and transferable. This also applies to aspects discussed in this paper, such as e-
commerce and nitrogen emissions. The Dutch planning system, rooted in democratic water and land
management, often faces land scarcity in light of economic and ecological ambitions. It is therefore
understood to have the necessary institutions and motivation to enhance spatial justice (Michels,
2006; Salet, 2018).
Although not always framed as spatial justice, the logistics planning literature frequently addresses
distributive problems. For example, the Los Angeles region has seen a conflict between regional
gains of logistics developments and their local pains in hinterland areas with vulnerable communities
(De Lara in Hall and Hesse, 2012; Yuan, 2019). While the regionalization of distribution centres along
the Alameda Corridor has improved the air quality and congestion in downtown LA and in general
terms in the whole region, it has significantly worsened living and working conditions in the Inland
Empire region, east from LA. Another recent case of spatial inequality around trade infrastructure is
the Belt and Road Initiative (Teo et al., 2019).
Spatial inequality of logistics is at least partly rooted in the inherently unstable and heterogeneous
territorial manifestations of logistics networks. As Santos (2006: 163, 176185) explains, building on
the work of Castells and other geographers, such networks constitute a national space at the service
of the international economy, creating various territorial dialectics and instabilities: local vs global,
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slow vs fast, competitive vs lagging, and varying levels of fluidity (adherence to international
corporate standards).
Since the gains and pains of logistics developments are felt on such different scales and among so
many different actors, making a good trade-off is extremely difficult. While a company can seek an
optimum of costs pertaining to e.g. the service level and location of a distribution centre (Onstein et
al., 2019), the societal trade-off is much more complex involving changing political positions
regarding a multitude of gains and pains. Neither societal cost-benefit analyses can fix this - since
these still need interpretation and fail to factor in aspects like biodiversity or landscape quality,
which are hard to measure (Hickman and Dean, 2018). Nor are spatial-economic models equipped to
combine and evaluate this variety of positive and negative externalities (Verhoef and Nijkamp,
2005). As a result, persuasive, coordinative and justificatory discourses remain key elements in
deciding on large economic developments with environmental impacts (Healey, 1999), such as
logistics.
The literature on spatial justice vis-à-vis logistics and local governance therefore suggests that the
trade-off between logistics gains and pains highly depends on discourses, on which Dutch hinterland
communities could have a meaningful influence. In the next section, two hinterland cases in the
Netherlands shed light on the public discourse on the gains and pains of logistics developments. The
purpose of the case study is not to evaluate the trade-offs, but rather to identify spatial justice
arguments (gains and pains) in the planning discourse, and analyse these with regard to the local
decision-making process.
Two Dutch cases of polemic logistics developments
To identify the discursive arguments of logistics developments in hinterland areas, the paper
analyses regional newspaper articles as well as municipal council decisions in two cases (Figure 1),
both part of the busy East-Southeast freight corridor and reaching a climax in the public approval
process in 2021.
Figure 1: The cases in the logistical hinterland of the Netherlands
Logistics development Klaver 7 (Horst aan de Maas municipality) is the most recent phase of the
ongoing Greenport Venlo development, following the 2009 masterplan including simultaneous
realization of ecological and recreational zones in the area (Nefs and Daamen, 2022). The expansion
of ca. 60 hectares should attract logistics and local small-medium enterprises. Housing of migrant
workers, linked to the distribution centres, has been a hot item in the debate, which radicalized in
Facebook groups (‘Arbeidsmigranten Horst aan de Maas’ and ‘Horst Online’). For this case, the 28
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most recent articles in De Limburger are analysed, discussing the pains and gains of the Greenport
development. “Thousands of square meters have become prey to the cathedrals of 24-hour
consumerism.” (De Limburger, 16-04-2019) For an insider view on the process, an interview was held
with commercial director Heerings of the Greenport Venlo Development Company, of which Horst
aan de Maas is a shareholder. Heerings: “If Horst cancels the plan, it will also loose the profits and
other benefits, such as space for local scale-up companies.”
Wijkevoort (Tilburg) is an 80ha development of logistics and industry near a motorway junction in an
agricultural landscape. More than 500 protest letters were handed in during the approval process
and for a year protesters waved banners in front of the city hall every day. Meanwhile, the
municipality worries about the high demand for industrial sites and the construction of 25 thousand
housing units, whose inhabitants need jobs. For this case, 28 articles from Brabants Dagblad are
analysed, mentioning gains and pains of Wijkevoort. Alderwoman Lahlah in Brabants Dagblad (11-
03-2022): Wijkevoort […] is really, really, the last piece of rural land being transformed to an
industrial estate. It was difficult, not for nothing the debate took 20 years. But you have to decide,
the city also wants to grow.” For the paper, an interview was held with alderman Van der Pol,
responsible for the adaptation and approval of the plan.
The persuasive arguments used in the media are organized in Table 1. Some of the articles present
only gain or pain arguments, the latter usually from the side of citizens: “Neighbouring inhabitants
are not impressed. They feel like victims of the economy.” (De Limburger, 10-03-2020) “Soon I’ll be
looking at incredibly high walls. The sheer scale annoys me. And for whom is all this logistics? The
benefits are certainly not for the people living in this region.” (Brabants Dagblad, 2020-12-12) Many
articles, however, (attempt to) reflect the trade-off that politicians need to make: “I can’t deny that
Wijkevoort has opened up several lines of conflict. […] What’s more important is that the
development of Wijkevoort makes the conservation of [the other proposed site] Zwaluwenbunders
possible, as a green buffer […]. That is a package deal.” (Alderwoman Lahlah in Brabants Dagblad 11-
03-2022) Most gain arguments mention generation of employment and creation of space for either
sustainable energy production or local scale-up companies. Most pain arguments emphasize loss of
agricultural land and landscape quality, as well as nuisance in the form of pollution and congestion.
In Brabants Dagblad, the frequency of gain and pain arguments is slightly more balanced than in De
Limburger.
The city council reports containing municipal decisions and coordinative/justificatory statements
regarding both developments are gathered in Table 2. These go back a few years until reaching a
clear picture of the approval process in 2021. Expert reports play a role in the decision process, most
importantly regarding the employment and environmental effects of the development. The
decisions regarding Klaver 7 and Wijkevoort follow a similar overall path, leading from the approval
of a preliminary masterplan or vision for the area, after which discussion arises and in 2021 a
decision is made: Klaver 7 is postponed until the end of 2024 when higher standards can be met,
while Wijkevoort is approved also with increased standards. These elevated standards (higher
spatial quality and local added value) are explicitly part of the political negotiations in the council
meetings, influenced by the media debate. With regard to Wijkevoort, a remarkable decision was to
not organize a solicited referendum, on procedural grounds, a decision that probably saved the
coalition but increased the protests. Shortly before the decisive council meeting in November 2021,
a talk show was planned with experts including the author of this paper. It was cancelled after
complaints in Brabants Dagblad (2021-10-06) that key protest groups had not been personally
invited. Alderman Van der Pol: “The very people demanding openness of affairs around Wijkevoort
ended up shutting down the debate.”
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Table 1. Frequency of arguments used in regional media articles (n=56)
Figure 2. Cartoon by Berend Vonk in De Limburger (2019-03-14). In regional dialect: “Nobody
understands how beautiful our Limburg is.”
gains
Brabants
Dagblad
De
Limburger
total
freq.
employment growth 7 7 14
space for sustainable solar and wind energy / energy hub / circular production 3 5 8
creating space for local scale-up companies or residential developments 6 1 7
econom ic devel opment 5 1 6
enabli ng e-commerce 1 5 6
compensatory development of ecological corridors and recreational green structures 4 1 5
innovation, value-added logistics activities 3 2 5
municipal land sale profits 2 1 3
TOTAL arguments 31 23 54
pains
Brabants
Dagblad
De
Limburger
total
freq.
transformation, dissapearance and deterioration of agricultural landscape and biodiversity 17 16 33
noise and air pollution 5 3 8
lack of space for local small-medium enterprises 3 5 8
road congestion 1 6 7
competition over scarce personnel 1 5 6
jobs not suited for local employees, but rather attracting more migrant workers 1 5 6
heat stress 5 0 5
nitrogen emissions, damaging nearby nature areas 4 1 5
risk of economic monoculture of logistics / lack of economic diversity / low added value 4 1 5
blocking of view 2 3 5
housing issues regarding migrant workers 2 2 4
possible future vacancy of warehouses 2 1 3
loss of recreational area for nearby inhabitants 2 0 2
precedent for further developments 1 0 1
TOTAL arguments 50 48 98
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Table 2. Municipal council decisions and statements
date decision Horst aan de Maas
2019-07-03
Establish municipal right to purchase Klaver 7 land
2020-01-01
Consider put Klaver 7 on hold
2020-11-10
Take into account citizen view on Klaver 7 development, safeguarding aspects of traffic, nature
compensation and accessibility; approve updated structuurvisie
2021-01-01
Agrofood and manufacturing aim for Klaver 7, instead of logistics services
2021-06-24
Make land use plan and impact study for Klaver 7
2021-08-09
Permit given for housing migrant workers
2021-11-23
Freeze logistics developments, not approving new sites including Klaver 7 for time being
2021-11-23
Municipality to keep strictly to discussed standards concerning spatial quality instead of quantity of land
development, including nature and landscape development, measures to ensure livability of inhabitants.
Synchronize policy with status of development, only then can development continue.
2022-01-02
No new permits given for housing of migrant workers, verification of quality of existing housing sites,
freeze klaver 7 development until the various involved municipalities take responsibility in housing of
migrant workers, landscape and traffic issues are solved, and accepted motions are executed
2022-03-25
Reassess land use plan for Klaver 7, to accommodate less XXL logistics and more space for local small-
medium enterprises
2022-05-10
Freeze large logistics developments klaver 7, only approving a landuse plan for Klaver 7 focusing on
innovative (high)tech firms, with maximum plot size of 3ha, with citizen participation in landscape
integration plan
date decision Tilburg
2018-02-05
Adopt the masterplan for development process of Wijkevoort
2021-01-01
Frame Wijkevoort development in context of knowledge intensive industry stimulation in Tilburg
2021-02-01
Allow smaller companies that do not meet the minimum space requirements of Wijkevoort, to pool
together in the development
2021-05-01
Frame Wijkevoort development in context of growing freight traffic, industrial site developments, housing
of migrant workers and inner city redevelopment.
2021-05-01
Frame Wijkevoort development in context of creating space for large and middle-size companies in
Tilburg, in a sustainable setting
2021-06-14
Establish municipal preference to purchase the Wijkevoort land
2021-06-14
Propose land use plan 2020 for Wijkevoort
2021-08-03
Not organize referendum on Wijkevoort development, having evaluated 27 written protests and regarded
these invalid
2021-08-03
Change in plan phases, decision to invest 0.5 million in green structure up front
2021-09-01
Budget decision to realize landscape park Pauwels, Stadsbos 013 and work landscape Wijkevoort,
according to economic and landscape ambitions of Tilburg
2021-09-07
Participation in pilot Circulair Wijkevoort
2021-11-09
Establish development guidelines and evaluation process to guarantee the quality of the Wijkevoort
development, in social economic, landscape and ecological terms.
2021-11-15
Change sustainable design standards (Breeam) to highest (outstanding), and if not possible the minimum is
excellent; higher standards in several spatial quality aspects; minimum of 50% external experts in Quality
Team
2021-11-15
Adopt the land use plan of Wijkevoort; declaring not valid the ca. 500 written protests
2021-11-15
Adopt: amendment to improve landscape integration and façade design standards of Wijkevoort;
amendment to add health expertise to Quality Team; amendment to act on light pollution; motions to
empower the council with procedures to control the developments when they start; motions to dedicate
more parcels to local small-medium companies and allow pooling of small companies
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Two factors may help explain the postponing of Klaver 7 vs the approval of Wijkevoort: skin in the
game and path dependence. First, as Klaver 7 is part of the much greater development of Greenport
Venlo, Horst aan de Maas owns merely 8.3% of the shares in the development company, which gives
the council the opportunity to view the negative aspects of for instance the XXL warehouses and
related migrant workers - as an outside threat. Tilburg on the other hand, has full skin in the game
regarding Wijkevoort, with no one else to blame. The municipality had the difficult task to approve
either this development or another one located in a delicate cultural landscape area, Park Pauwels.
Secondly, as often happens (Hein and Schubert, 2021) path dependence in both municipalities
influenced the political discourse. Horst aan de Maas had entered the Greenport project with the
aim of strengthening its local agri-food sector, while realizing nature areas at the same time (Nefs
and Daamen, 2022). As it became clear that the Greenport did not attract the desired companies,
but rather XXL distribution centres, the municipality became more critical when the development
approached its territory. Tilburg feels the pressure of maintaining a logistics hotspot, from its former
policies since 2000, employing many of its inhabitants. Another long-term policy choice, to realize
Park Pauwels, conflicted with the development of the Zwaluwenbunders logistics site, making
Wijkevoort the only available option left.
Conclusions on spatial justice in logistics planning
The two cases analysed above illustrate clearly that hinterland logistics in the Netherlands is an issue
of distributive spatial justice. The media debate and the local decision-making process show the
conflicts of interests between stakeholders as well as the constant trade-offs between gains and
pains regarding varying areas and stakeholders, on various spatial scales. There is no evidence,
however, of deliberate outsourcing of nuisance to vulnerable social groups in the hinterland, as is
described in the case of Los Angeles (De Lara in Hall and Hesse, 2012; Yuan, 2019). Tilburg and Horst
aan de Maas should by no means be seen as the periphery of the Port of Rotterdam, and rather as
logistics growth poles with strategies and trade-offs of their own. Nevertheless, the debate shows
the difficult trade-off between regionalor (inter)national - gains vs local pains. Nimbyism can easily
be identified, for example inhabitants trying to avoid the blocking of their view or the arrival of a
migrant worker facility near their house. Neither in the media reports nor in the decision making,
however, nimbyism seems to dominate.
The argumentation found in the cases allows a more detailed understanding of spatial justice trade-
offs in hinterland logistics development, containing at least five distinct layers (Figure 3). The
distribution of gains and pains among regions and social groups in a just equilibrium or problematic
disbalance are part of the traditional spatial justice discourse. Even when there is no centre-
periphery issue like in Los Angeles, the logistical hinterland regions do perform tasks (enabling e-
commerce for example) for metropolitan centres and other regions. The question is whether
hinterland regions can sufficiently capture the economic development and investments, in green
areas and sustainable energy, in return.
The distribution of logistics gains and pains across social groups poses another challenge: a number
of low-skilled workers in the area depends on logistics companies for their livelihood. The
contracting of migrant workers from Eastern Europe, however, has difficulted the working
conditions and unions in the sector as a whole (Bergeijk, 2019). E-commerce seems to be a non-
transferable good from which everyone benefits (Moroni, 2020), yet groups with a high
consumption pattern benefit more, while the environmental impacts (air pollution, noise,
congestion) of distribution centres are felt more strongly by communities nearby. The discourse in
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both cases addresses the increasing dependence on a single sector (logistics) in the regional
economy, demanding more personnel than the region can supply; as well as multinationals acquiring
land for large distribution centres, while local small-medium enterprises struggle to find space to
scale up their business. Especially this last aspect is taken very seriously by the media and politicians
in both areas.
Figure 3. Concept of (distributive) spatial justice trade-offs applied to hinterland logistics
Beyond the interregional, groups and sectors trade-offs, there are also spatial justice trade-offs at
play between citizens and companies. This is by far the most entrenched and at times even cynical
part of the discussion, characterized by nimby protests - against developing companies or, more
often, local governments allowing the development; by free riders - opponents of local logistics
developments who eagerly use delivery services anyway; and by companies refusing to give up old
business models or to reduce their impact significantly. A great annoyance for citizens and civil
servants, mentioned in several of the analysed media and council reports as well as the interviews,
are the backroom deals between local politicians and large corporations.
A broader and more productive discourse, sometimes enhanced by experts, concerns the trade-off
between quality of life and economic development of a region. While these aspects do not
necessarily contradict, there often exists a political tension and spatial conflict between them. It is in
this realm that compromises can be found, for example companies increasing their ‘license to
operate’ by realizing part of the ecological and recreational infrastructures in and around the
developments. Or government strategies that attempt to strike a balance between the long-term
economic development of the region and ecological/landscape vitality.
The analysis identified gain and pain arguments used in persuasive, coordinative and justificatory
discourses (Healey, 1999) in the media and council reports of the cases. Even though decision-
making has taken into account quantitative and qualitative research e.g. regarding employment and
environmental effects, the final trade-off between all gains and pains was not directly supported by
research and is rather the result of a media-influenced political debate, built on the five levels of
trade-offs described above. Some trade-offs, however, can hardly be made on the local level alone,
such as the gain of enabling e-commerce for a large region vs the local noise and air pollution. This
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paper’s advice to planners dealing with hinterland logistics issues is therefore to address trade-offs
in all relevant layers of spatial justice mentioned above, by creating a policy context of transparency
(especially around lobby by local and foreign companies), deradicalizing nimby agents and
stimulating an open critical debate supported by facts and expert opinions.
Acknowledgements
The author would like to thank the contributions and suggestions by Tom Daamen, Christian
Heerings, Carola Hein, Lukas Höller, Céline Janssen, Frank van Oort, Bas van der Pol, Roberto Rocco
and Wil Zonneveld.
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