Behind the Big Box: understanding the planning-development dialectic of large distribution centres in Europe

Merten Nefs*, T.A. Daamen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
45 Downloads (Pure)


In Europe, very large distribution centres (XXL DCs) are increasingly appearing on planning agendas due to their growing spatial footprint and environmental impacts. Although the emergence of XXL DCs has gained traction in academic research, empirical knowledge about the process that leads to their oft-debated location choice, geometry and landscape integration is still scarce. This paper aims to improve our understanding of this process, analysing the decisions of key stakeholders in the planning-development dialectic behind four exemplary XXL DC transactions, in the Netherlands. Our analyses shed light on the motivations of public and private actors as well as the (lack of) planning rules that shape these transactions. We find that specific incentives in the Dutch decentralized planning and legal-financial system contribute to logistics sprawl. Existing planning instruments that could steer logistics developments, such as environmental and employment quality regulations, are largely left unused. Our study suggests that multilevel planning competencies and international market standards are important variables in explaining XXL DC outcomes. Unlike often assumed in the literature, internationalization has – next to stimulating the growth of XXL DCs – contributed to more sustainable location choices and landscape integration.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1007-1028
Number of pages22
JournalEuropean Planning Studies
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Distribution centre
  • logistics
  • spatial development
  • governance
  • spatial planning


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