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Campaigners say dark stores should not be permitted close to schools due to pollution issues

A new campaign group is calling on Levelling Up secretary Michael Gove to “crack down on the surge” of dark stores, saying their arrival brings increased air pollution and congestion, and causes local businesses to suffer.

The Lorax Initiative is urging the secretary of state for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to legislate new rules on the placement of dark stores – used by rapid grocers and other retailers to offer faster delivery of online orders – in the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill.

“The unregulated growth of dark stores and micro-fulfilment centres can’t continue,” said Andrew Grieve, director of the Lorax Initiative and senior air quality analyst at Imperial College London.

“We must look seriously at how we protect communities and the vulnerable from the rise of 24/7 warehouses and dark stores. Michael Gove must ensure that levelling up is about health as well as wealth. There is space for such depots, but in the right places.”

The campaign – which was borne of another campaign group Nocado, which has been embroiled in a legal battle against Ocado’s plan to open a depot next to a London primary school – recommends any new dark stores be at least 400 metres away from schools, hospitals and care homes.

The group also wants the bill to include a provision based on the US’s ‘Warehouse Indirect Source Rule’ which requires warehouses to annually take emission reduction actions. Further, they want loopholes in the planning process, which they say are being exploited by warehouse developers, closed.

Elsewhere in Europe, the growing number of dark stores popping up in major cities is prompting resistance from local communities and councils.

Amsterdam and Rotterdam earlier this year imposed a one-year ban on new dark stores, with other cities in the Netherlands working on similar policies. In summer, Madrid City Council – updating its zoning regulations for the first time in 20 years – banned dark stores of more than 350 sq m from residential areas, and Barcelona said it would not grant permission for any further dark stores in the city. In September the French government decreed that dark stores be classified as warehouses, rather than as shops, making it easier for mayors to close them down.

The sentiment is spreading beyond Europe. New York City mayor Eric Adams in May introduced new rules meaning shoppers must be able to enter dark stores and make purchases without an app.

The UK is predicted to have 1,500 grocery dark stores by 2030, forecasting by Interact Analysis shared exclusively with The Grocer revealed.

“With the levelling up bill stalled in parliament, we have an opportunity to empower communities while growing business in a sustainable way,” said Natasha Cox, Green Party campaigner and Lorax Initiative director.

“The government must take into account the degradation these micro-fulfilment stores cause in local communities and put safeguards in place to ensure fulfilment centres are prohibited from harming the most vulnerable in our communities.”