The uncertainty that has surrounded the Long Marston site in Stratford upon Avon over recent years is likely to be settled next week, with a decision from the Planning Committee expected on St. Modwen’s Masterplan proposals for a new leisure-led village.
Here, John Dodds, Midlands regional director for St. Modwen looks at why tension is mounting for the developer and the businesses which are currently located at Long Marston. With unemployment set to reach 2.5 million in the UK this year, Mr Dodds also calls for more emphasis to be placed on the job creation benefits of regeneration, when the debate over controversial schemes such as Long Marston is being played out.
As landowner of the 478 acre Long Marston site, St. Modwen is all too aware of the pockets of local opposition which have been against any form of redevelopment of this area of Stratford upon Avon. A sustained campaign against the land, plus the 228 acres of neighbouring land owned by The Bird Group which collectively is being earmarked as a potential Eco Town, has seen individuals – mobilised as BARD (Better Accessible Responsible Development) – come out fighting against the regeneration of the former MOD site.
It is of course within one’s rights to voice opinions on proposed developments, and the planning system is set up to accommodate these views, with statutory public consultation processes often a first step in garnering public reaction. As a developer, it would be incredibly naive to believe that regeneration on such a scale as that proposed at Long Marston would not result in some kind of response, and indeed the Masterplan has provoked comments both for and against the proposals.
However, what has been surprising is that the opportunity this scheme brings to safeguard existing employment on site at Long Marston and to create further jobs seems to have been overlooked. Timing is key and unemployment figures recently released from the Office of National Statistics confirmed that the UK’s unemployment numbers are likely to grow.
Uncertainty is something that many business leaders and employees have had to learn to live with throughout the current economic downturn. However for the hundreds of employees currently based at Long Marston, this has been compounded by the uncertainty of not knowing whether St. Modwen will get a permanent planning permission for the site – if consent is not granted then the existing businesses will have to relocate.
Long Marston-based Jet Logistics has seen its growth and prosperity threatened by the uncertainty surrounding the site’s future. According to managing director and founder Paul Johnson, the company has not been able to develop in line with its customers’ requests, has been restricted in securing new contracts, and has risked falling behind its competitors. What’s more, being unable to offer long term job prospects has meant Paul has found it increasingly difficult to expand the workforce locally.
Jet Logistics has around 200 employees and is further supported by 40 local suppliers. It has waited for three years for the stability of a planning approval for the site, which would give the green light to kick-start the growth and future expansion of the business, and to investment in the recruitment and training of a strong local workforce.
In common with many other businesses based at Long Marston, Jet selected the site for its central location within the UK, its security and most importantly the rail hub. To find another site of a similar nature would not be an easy task. This is a view shared by Long Marston-based Motorail Logistics – an industry specialist in storing traction and rolling stock which has 20 miles of railway lines in total on site, including 15 miles of secluded standage and five miles of running lines.
Colin Flack, one of the founder directors of Motorail Logistics, has explained that if planning permission is not granted for St. Modwen’s Masterplan proposals, then this will have a catastrophic effect on the business and a knock-on effect for its clients and supply chain. Motorail Logistics would have to close its Long Marston premises; and while it would look to relocate, there are limited opportunities for a business that relies on being based in a key location within the railway network, and has grown to accommodate almost 1,000 pieces of rolling stock.
If planning is granted for the leisure-led village, Motorail Logistics would act as the main conduit between Network Rail and its neighbouring tenants on site to investigate the possibility of more freight being moved by rail rather than road, thereby reducing traffic on the road network. A permanent planning consent would enable St. Modwen and its tenants to invest in the site to make this possible.
Aside from considering the hundreds of people currently employed at Long Marston, it is important to consider the prospects of future job creation and the real social-economic benefits that regeneration can deliver for an area. We believe that as many as 170 additional jobs could be provided at Long Marston in connection with the planned leisure village, outdoor activity centre and rail-based leisure activity.
With the region’s manufacturing industry in freefall, and its car production heritage virtually consigned to the history books, it is crucial that jobs are created in a range of industries – with leisure becoming increasingly prominent.
We would also expect that as many as 300 additional construction jobs could be created as the site is developed. The construction industry has been hit hard by the recession and opportunities for new employment on this scale should not be downplayed. 500 new homes are also proposed within the Masterplan, 35 per cent of which would be ‘affordable’ in line with government policy – there are currently few opportunities to buy affordable homes in the District. These properties could accommodate those working at Long Marston, making for a sustainable new development and providing people with the opportunity to live close to where they work.
So this landmark week is not just about the prospect of being granted a planning permission for Long Marston. It is also about securing a prosperous future for the area, providing much needed affordable housing, and raising the topic of sustaining employment and local job creation to the top of the agenda. It is about an end to three years of uncertainty, and the real and tangible benefits of regeneration.