Food Enterprise Zone/Easton Food Hub
CPRE Norfolk supports the concept of rural food related enterprises. We endorse the benefits that could be achieved from a grouping of such activities on a rural Food Hub. However, we have strong reservations whether the Defra concept of assisting rural economies can be applied to this location, which is so close to the existing Greater Norwich conurbation, and could soon be enveloped by much new housing and associated development. This concern is compounded by the number of unnecessary activities that can be allowed on the Hub site, such as large-scale storage and distribution facilities, which are not related to food innovation and enterprise.
We also recognise the competition from other rural counties in England also wishing to create FEZs under the Defra initiatives, and that Norfolk does not wish to miss out. Growth is important both regionally and nationally, but all proposals must withstand scrutiny to ensure that the economic benefits are real and do not create avoidable damage to the countryside and environment.
We oppose the current proposal of a Food Hub at Easton for a first phase development of 19ha, which was adopted on 31st October 2017 by Broadland District Council (BDC) under a Local Development Order (LDO), with further phases covering an area of up to 50ha.
It is our opinion that the s106 Agreement which accompanies the LDO is ineffective and does not recognise the implications associated with the developing A47 improvement designs by Highways England for the dualled expressway between Easton and North Tuddenham, including the removal of the existing Easton roundabout. Moreover, from available information, it appears that the proposed hub will lead to a range of developments which would not be limited to rural food and agricultural enterprises.
There are too many unknowns for any objective assessment of these proposals and in our view the LDO should be withdrawn until all these issues are clear.
A full explanation of our concerns is below.
1. There is no definitive statement of the economic benefit to the local economy. The application to Defra by NALEP states that 10,000 jobs will be generated. BDC in its quarterly progress reports to Defra note that completion of Phase 1 will create 800 direct and indirect jobs when completed. There is a large discrepancy between these figures as to the actual number of jobs which will result, along with uncertainty over the scale of the investment needed.
2. The developer has submitted a business case to NALEP seeking financial assistance. We believe that the public should be informed of the economic viability of the scheme together with the type and level of public funding being sought by a privately owned enterprise before the LDO is adopted.
3. NALEP are required to generate growth through the award of various government funds. If job creation is the sole purpose of financial support of the Food Hub, there should be full transparency. It is not acceptable to plead that this information is commercially sensitive. If the scheme is not viable without a loan of £3m, £5m or £20m to create these 800 jobs, simply say so and the public can form an opinion.
4. The definition of a Food Hub needs to be better clarified as the image portrayed by the permitted uses is far from likely. Permitted uses for the site are:
• Agri-tech businesses which make use of the local agri-science base;
• Food technology companies;
• Processing of agricultural produce;
• Manufacture of food products;
• Manufacture of specialist food supplies (e.g. food packaging);
• Storage and distribution of agricultural produce;
• Storage and distribution of agricultural products (i.e. have undergone processing);
• Storage and distribution of agricultural equipment, machinery and supplies;
• Storage and distribution of livestock (e.g. livestock market);
• Haulage services related to the above storage and distribution;
• Veterinary services
5. The world-wide reputation of the Norwich area in Agri-tech, Agri-science and Technology suggests that there would be a demand for further companies in this sector. However, with modern electronic communications and the established Norwich Research Park (NRP) at Colney, we do not foresee either the need or wish for another competing site at Easton whist there is still sufficient space and grants available for setting up at NRP. These headline activities may help to sell the concept but in reality any demand is likely to be for the remaining uses only.
6. Without knowledge of types and sizes of companies, we cannot assess the implications of this proposal for other areas in Norfolk. Will the site attract existing businesses from elsewhere in the county? Will we see a migration of workers leaving villages to live closer to this semi-urban employment site? How much more commuting traffic will be created in nearby villages?
7. The site is on agricultural land within an exclusively rural environment. If developed in isolation it will become an inappropriate large industrial complex and generator of HGV traffic. The stated longer term plans by the developer for further phases together with expansion plans for Greater Norwich will mean the site will become swallowed up within a general urban sprawl. Neither scenario is of benefit to the Norfolk countryside.
8. The scale of Phase 1 with 50,000m² of buildings with a permitted height of 10m, which is to be built on a high plateau above the river Tud, is out of proportion to the location. To put this in prospective; the 9 units at the nearby Longwater Retail Park cover 15,000m² and are approximately 6m high.
9. The lack of any specific end users of the site means that environmental issues of either this first phase only or the cumulative effects of future phases have not been, nor cannot be, adequately considered under the LDO process.
10. The site is promoted as easy access to A47 and already pressure is being exerted to move the Easton roundabout to Blind Lane in the upgrade of the A47 proposals to assist this claim. Again the implications of this have not been considered and are being ignored in Highway England’s design considerations for the A47 upgrade. Until we are told of the proposed companies and types of industrial processes it is not possible to assess the resulting impacts of heavy goods or farm traffic on the existing road network, or changes resulting from the A47 upgrades.
CPRE Norfolk is not opposed to growth and development. We are happy to consider the balance of benefits from a proposal against the effects on the countryside and the environment.
However, we ask for the honesty and transparency at local and national level to make this judgement, and not the secrecy and duplicity which continue to surround the promotion of the Easton Food Hub.