The 'dark stores' blighting our communities

Ella died aged nine in 2013 from a rare and severe form of asthma which was caused by exposure to pollution from living in close proximity to the South Circular in London.

Campaigners urge Michael Gove to get tough on 'dark store' delivery depots or risk children’s health and well-being from air pollution.

We must  look seriously at how we protect communities and the vulnerable from the rise of 24/7 warehouses and dark stores.

A new campaign launching today is urging Michael Gove as the levelling up secretary to introduce tough regulation to lessen the impact of 'dark stores' of air pollution on communities.

The Lorax Initiative states that the unchecked growth and lack of regulation of last-mile delivery depots is a hazard for vulnerable people in urban areas, with increases in traffic, congestion and pollution as well as a decline in business for locally-owned businesses.

The campaign, formed after a legal battle against delivery giant Ocado’s plan to open a depot next to a London primary school, recommends that new warehouses must be at least 400 metres from facilities including schools, hospitals and care homes.


Rosamund Adoo Kissi-Debrah, founder of Ella Roberts Family Foundation and clear air activist, is among those speaking out about the environmental and health risks 'dark store' delivery depots have on vulnerable people and their contribution to the degradation of local communities.

Adoo-Kissi-Debrah became a clean air advocate after her nine-year-old daughter, Ella, died in 2013 from a rare and severe form of asthma which was caused by their close proximity to the South Circular.

The initiative recommends that warehouses should be made to “annually take actions which either reduce emissions regionally and locally or that facilitate emission reductions,” in its new report, Making Ecommerce Growth Green

The owners should report on progress annually, and local councils must require a full planning permission process for all new warehousing facilities, under the recommendations in the report. Currently, the classification of fulfilment centres is unclear - meaning that companies can potentially exploit loopholes in planning.

Andrew Grieve, director of the Lorax Initiative and Senior Air Quality Analyst, School of Public Health, Imperial College London, said: “The unregulated growth of dark stores and micro fulfilment centres can’t continue.

"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."


Currently, more than a quarter of UK school pupils attend school in areas where air pollution levels are above the World Health Organisation’s limit. Research by the University of Manchester has linked air pollution to cognitive impairments including ADHD.

Air pollution is the cause of many respiratory diseases including asthma and lung cancer. Children are especially vulnerable to developing acute lower respiratory tract infections because their lungs are still developing, and emissions of soot and other pollutants cause lifelong lung damage to children.

We must  look seriously at how we protect communities and the vulnerable from the rise of 24/7 warehouses and dark stores.

Ocado and its partners have announced that it plans to open 56 customer fulfilment centres globally, as well as a dozen micro customer fulfilment centres - which they coin “zoom centres”  and cater for one-hour deliveries. There will be 12 centres across the UK. 

Moreover, in 2020, Tesco set out plans to open 25 of the facilities in urban areas due to the growth in their online sales.

In terms of smaller sites, the UK is predicted to have 1,500 grocery dark stores by 2030, according to Interact Analysis, up from approximately 200 at the moment, with firms such as Getir and Gorillas expanding rapidly.

According to the report, if online retail sales continue to rapidly rise, the UK could see additional requirements for urban or last-mile fulfilment space totalling 12 million square foot - the equivalent of 16 Wembley Stadiums.


The growth of fulfilment centres and dark stores has led to strong regulation elsewhere in Europe.

The Netherlands announced a complete halt to new dark store sites in Amsterdam, citing “blocked sidewalks, road safety and nightly noise pollution.” Cities including Rotterdam, the Hague and Arnhem have followed suit in devising plans to restrict expansion.

“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 UK Government must take into account the degradation these mico 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.”

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from the Lorax Initiative.

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