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Port troubled by lack of industrial land

Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester says region is at risk of hitting an economic brick wall
Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester says trade-enabling industrial land is critical to the local and national economy, and contributes to our high standard of living.

Port Metro Vancouver is once again sounding the alarm about a shortage of industrial land in the Lower Mainland.

The port recently released a study it had commissioned that found there are only roughly 1,000 acres of vacant trade-enabling industrial land available in the region suitable for logistics and goods movement. Based on average annual absorption rates and anticipated demand, that supply could be depleted within a decade, warned the port.

"Trade and logistics services that support goods movement are critical to the local and national economy, and contribute to our high standard of living," said Port Metro Vancouver CEO Robin Silvester. "Without sufficient trade-enabling industrial land to meet growing demand, we risk hitting an economic brick wall, with serious consequences for our quality of life here in the Lower Mainland."

It was the same warning he issued a week earlier in a speech to the Vancouver Board of Trade, calling on provincial and regional leaders "to embrace a shared responsibility" and "a collective approach to managing growth."

The latest industrial land report by Avison Young seems to add support for the argument the region is running low on industrial land. It found "a nearly unprecedented level of positive absorption" in the past six to 12 months has depleted much of the new supply of industrial space delivered in Metro Vancouver since 2014.

The real estate firm noted that despite Metro Vancouver's industrial inventory growing by more than 3.2 million square feet during the past 12 months, overall vacancy has tightened further, dropping to three per cent by fall 2015. The report also notes that in Delta, the industrial vacancy rate dropped to 4.6 per cent from seven per cent a year ago.

The latest warning will likely once again spark concern about what might be in store for farmland in South Delta and elsewhere and whether some of it will be converted to industrial uses to serve port expansion at Roberts Bank. Three years ago, Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington made public the fact that large parcels in South Delta were being optioned for speculative future conversion.

While speculators hoping to convert farmland remains a concern here, the port doesn't own farmland within South Delta, but it does own farmland in other areas, including Richmond, a contentious topic in that city.

Huntington raised concerns about what's intended for those lands as well, levelling criticism against Premier Christy Clark.

In response, Tom Corsie, the port's vicepresident of real estate, stated the port is very concerned about the availability of industrial land in the region, saying a regional approach to land use management is urgently needed.

Huntington, however, told the Optimist, "There are a lot of things the port could do to encourage a more efficient use of existing industrial land. The port and the province could require the distribution network to operate 24 hours a day: the pressure on land and even the perceived pressure to build T2, would diminish considerably."