What’s planned at Suffolk’s biggest ever business park?
- Credit: Archant
The size of 31 football pitches, a new business park near the A14 in Stowmarket could be Suffolk’s biggest ever. As the first official plans emerge, Emily Townsend investigates.
There are 156 planning documents for the huge Gateway 14 project – one for every acre of farmland purchased for the development by the Mid Suffolk District Council (MSDC) owned company behind the project.
Straddling the A14 between Cedars Park housing estate and the Muntons factory, on arable land already with outline planning permission, the giant project is expected to be built over the next 10 to 15 years.
The total budget has so far reached £37m - of that, £20m was spent on farmland, while £17m is set to go on infrastructure.
Now, the dream is a step closer as the first detailed proposals have just been submitted to MSDC's planning department. If approved, spades could be in the ground by the end of this year.
What is planned?
Gateway 14 is set to be the largest business park in East Anglia.
It is described by developers as an “ideal” location for logistics, manufacturing, innovation, technology, and warehousing companies.
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Just over a quarter of the site – 42 acres – is in the Stowmarket Enterprise Zone, giving firms locating there up to £275,000 in business rate relief over five years.
Early masterplans, which may be revised when further planning applications are submitted, designate the lion’s share of the development (122 acres) as ‘industrial/logistics', with eight acres allocated for an ‘innovation centre'.
Landscaping features and a biodiversity zone aimed at retaining the area's “thriving ecology” complete the site; with the development split in two by a new road and roundabout linking Stowmarket Tesco with properties at Clamp Farm Barn to the north.
How many jobs?
With ample space and roads to Britain's biggest international port of Felixstowe, chief developers Gateway 14 Ltd and partners Jaynic estimate the park will create approximately 3,000 direct jobs, with a further 1,500 'indirect' roles.
The figures are put forward in the companies' newly-published joint vision for the site, which forms part of the hybrid planning application submitted to MSDC on Thursday.
Yet in a different report agent Avison Young - which is helping to market the site - estimates it could create between 1,400 and 4,826 full-time equivalent roles.
It says the direct job creation would be of "moderate to major" benefit at district level, and of "mild" benefit at sub-regional level, e.g., Suffolk-wide.
Once finished, the report says Gateway 14's effects on the economy are considered to be of "minor to moderate benefit" to the district and Suffolk as a whole.
Russell Stott, of a newly-established residents' campaign group, feels the proposals' fresh description of the jobs offer is "underwhelming".
He also pointed out that the scheme is, as of January 31, part of plans for the new 'Freeport East' project allowing firms to import goods and re-export outside normal tax and customs rules.
"We are concerned that this means a greater likelihood of warehousing and transiting goods, and that the number of new jobs used to justify the project are unlikely to emerge," he added.
“Some are calling it Suffolk’s Mega Shed Complex which doesn't sound like the bright future for Stowmarket for which we had hoped.”
Developers say the number of jobs created will depend on the quantity and types of employers, adding that many firms have already expressed interest.
Council bosses describe Gateway 14 as an "exciting venture" and say they are confident it will create thousands of local jobs, adding it "will deliver a multi-million-pound boost for Mid Suffolk – especially the growth of creative and technology businesses and attracting inward investment."
Skilled and unskilled jobs could be generated by a wide range of firms, they added, with the enterprise zone attracting agri-tech, food, health and media - while warehousing typically creates hundreds of varied roles.
They also said Freeport East will create manufacturing, green energy, and innovation hubs rather than locations for container storage.
Chris Starkie, chief executive of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership said it is continuing to work with Jaynic to support the development.
Describing it as a "strategically important development site on the A14 corridor", he added: “Businesses need space, facilities and confidence to be able to grow so investment in this site is likely to attract interest from local firms looking to expand and from firms in other parts of the UK and overseas.”
Campaigners not impressed
But Creeting St Peter resident Mr Stott said his new campaign group, which aims to get the best deal for Stowmarket and surrounding villages, fears MSDC is "driving a truck" through its own development brief.
Back in 2014, when private firms were interested in developing the Gateway 14 site, the council created a document outlining requirements developers must consider in planning proposals.
Mr Stott claims certain aspects of the brief are not being followed by the MSDC-owned Gateway 14 Ltd and Jaynic this time around. The authority is clear planning officers are at "arm's length" from the project.
The brief says landscaping proposals “must satisfactorily address” limiting visual impact on open countryside. It says a minimum 40m of structural landscaping should be included in each phase of development along the A1120 (Cedars Link).
Jaynic bosses said they intend to deliver landscaping at the start so it matures throughout. They did not specify scale but said ‘green corridors’ would be created along the A1120 to help blend the site into the landscape, adding that 20m of landscape ‘buffers’ are included around the perimeter following neighbour feedback.
Three ‘height zones’ ranging from 6.5m to 15m are also set out in the brief.
Under MSDC’s current Gateway 14 plans, the maximum height will be 21m - bosses say they might not even reach that but proposing a maximum helps with flexibility.
Developers say the tallest buildings are located to the south near Muntons (already 27m high) while the smallest, up to 12m high, will be closest to residential properties. A 5m ‘no build zone’ is also included at the edges.
Despite the mitigation measures, Mr Stott said his group remains concerned the buildings will “dominate the skyline” and impact residents’ quality of life.
Council bosses, able to borrow public money cheaply, are in a unique position to deliver a project of this scale where others have failed. But leaders acknowledge such proposals have to weather rigorous scrutiny and public consultation.
They pointed out that early feedback from residents has helped shape the proposals, adding that they expect further responses before it goes to planning committee in the coming weeks.
View and comment on the full proposals via the planning portal.