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Research park gets unanimous green light from planners

Haverhill TV

Thursday, 24th November 2011.

Councillors this morning gave the go-ahead for Haverhill Research Park to be developed at Hanchet End, in a scheme that also involves up to 150 houses.

The mixed use proposal was the result of four years work led by Nic Rumsey, a director of Carisbrooke Investments, who created Haverhill Business Park off Bumpstead Road.

It is estimated to bring around 1,000 new jobs to the town over the longer term.

St Edmundsbury Borough Council's development control committee held a site inspection this morning and then adjourned to the New Croft football centre to hear detailed arguments about the scheme, including concerns from local residents.

In they end they unanimously approved all four planning applications - the first for remodelling the site to create development platforms, and the other three outline applications for the research park, for a hotel, pub and creche, and for up to 150 homes.

The residential element has been agreed by the planners on land which was not zoned for it because it has been accepted that without a third of the site being given over to high-value uses, the whole scheme was unviable and would never happen.

It has been an aim of the business community and the local authority for decades that the site off the Spirit of Enterprise gateway roundabout should be used for high-tech business.

The corner site marking the entrance to the town has been earmarked for a 'prestigious' building since the town's first masterplan in 1970.

Now these aspirations are beginning to come to fruition, although it may be several years before they appear on the ground.

After the decision, a delighted Mr Rumsey described getting the planning permission as 'the esy bit' and said the real hard work was still to come.

He aims to have the re-shaping of the landscape - costing more than 4million - finished by the end of 2012. It would have to create an environment good enough, he said, to attract investment from companies in a sector for which Haverhill does not yet have a track record.

In that regard he called it 'a leap of faith', especially at a time when funding for it is getting increasingly difficult to get.

"We are working with Suffolk County Council and St Edmundsbury to get an innovation centre on the site, right in the middle by the lake," he said.

He also hopes larger players in Haverhill, such as IFF, Genzyme etc, can be persuaded to locate research and development offices there to help support the park.

He hopes to retain involvement in the sort of housing which will be built on the residential part, but admitted the economic climate might not allow it, because his lenders might require him to show some early return by selling that area to a developer.

Earlier, local residents had put forward concerns ranging from the size of the landscaping buffer zone to access from the A1307, and from water drainage to noise or smell pollution, although most stressed they were not against the development in principle.

Their questions were answered by planners and engineers from St Edmundsbury and Suffolk Highways.

They were told the 20m landscaping buffer was by far the widest St Edmundsbury had ever achieved from a developer and would be planted on a raised mound to increase its effectiveness.

The most contentious issue was over the access onto the A1307, which is a straightforward T-junction, with turning lanes.

Several councillors felt this was inadequate and argued for a full-size roundabout or a mini-roundabout, but were told by John Noble, senior development engineer with Suffolk County Council that what was proposed was both 'safe and suitable'.

The new development was, he said, 'unlikely to lead to any congestion at all' on the A1307, while the level of queueing out of the site would be 'relatively small'.

A mini-roundabout would be quite unsuitable and would cause tailbacks, he said.

He later quantified the council's estimates to a maximum queue of six vehicles on the A1307 at peak times, and maximum delay of one minute.

Traffic lights, he said, were so expensive as to make the whole scheme unviable and would not make things any better.

The developers will be having to pay up over 500,000 in 'contributions' for highway work, education, health services and other community provisions.

Haverhill Town Council had argued that 30 per cent of the residential development should be affordable housing, in line with the borough's stated policy, rather than the ten per cent proposed, but planning director Chris Rand said that was only where there were no viability issues.

He admitted it was a dilemma because the site was not allocated for any housing at all and, indeed, the council did not want any housing on the site.

However, it was clear that if there was no housing to fund the infrastructure the development of a research park, which was the council's aim, would never take place at all.

"Affordable housing does not contribute at all towards infrastructure costs, so if you increase the percentage you are taking away income," he said.

"In the end we have ten per cent of something rather than 30 per cent of nothing."

The plan was backed by Sarah Howard, chairman of Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, who said the long-term economic future of the town was dependent on having a wider range of employment.

This was a site for a landmark development and would attract new research and development businesses.

"It will be a major part of the town's and St Edmundsbury's economic future," she said.

There was strong support also from some Bury councillors on the committee. Cllr Stefan Oliver said the proposal was presented by 'the best set of papers on any project which I have had anything to do with'.

"It is very exciting to see a project of this size at this time," he said. "It would be a great filip to everyone in the whole area and the whole borough."

He also said it would join the Spirit of Enterprise roundabout to the rest of Haverhill and he praised the inclusion of a hotel, urging it should be a good one. "The whole are needs good hotels," he said.

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