DISAPPOINTMENT has been voiced by business leaders after the Government pulled the plug on Coventry and Warwickshire Gateway.
The £450 million development – entirely funded by private investment – was expected to create up to 10,000 jobs and was to have included new technology and manufacturing hubs on land near Coventry Airport.
The project had received the backing and approval of Warwick District Council and Coventry City Council, and the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership – but Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government Eric Pickles rejected the plans.
Warwick District Council leader Andrew Mobbs said: “The Council has spent a great deal of time very carefully considering the Coventry & Warwickshire Gateway proposal and we came to a balanced judgement on the economic advantages of the scheme weighed against the loss of Greenbelt land in this part of our district. We do, however, welcome the Secretary of State’s conclusion that a strong case has been made for the development and that it would deliver economic benefits and environmental gains.
“This supports our view that this site could be a major boost for our local and the wider sub-regional economy. We will now need to very carefully study the reasons the Secretary of State has given for his decision, and consider the implications of these as we move forward.”
Sir Peter Rigby, one of the partners in the development, said he was ‘surprised’ by Mr Pickles’ decision.
Sir Peter, whose international Rigby Group business is based in Warwickshire, said: “We had no indication which way the minister would go, but having won support from the two planning authorities and with the backing of the business community, several local MPs and the LEP – not to mention being at the heart of Warwick District Council’s local plan – we were obviously disappointed to see this turned down.
“This is a significant setback not only to this scheme but to the wider region.”
Sir Peter had claimed Gateway would bring £250 million of investment and up to 14,000 jobs.
That figure included 10,000 jobs around the airport, with a further 4,000 jobs ‘unlocked’ at nearby Whitley Business Park by supporting infrastructure.
Much of that infrastructure, including road improvements, is already underway.
The project was called in for review by the government following public protests.
There were some 1,000 objections, including from residents, parish councils, environment campaigners, and Kenilworth and Southam Conservative MP Jeremy Wright, who is also the government’s attorney general.
Campaigners claimed the scheme contravened government rules on Greenbelt development. They argued the ‘very special circumstances’ required for the release of Greenbelt did not exist as more suitable sites had already been allocated for large employment schemes, including nearby Ansty Park.
The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) welcomed Mr Pickles’ decision.
A spokesman said: “The development would have torn a vast hole in the West Midlands Greenbelt, which has largely prevented the outward sprawl of Coventry and kept it separate from Leamington, Warwick and Kenilworth to the south.
“It would have added to pressure on the transport system, requiring further lengthy and disruptive road improvements. Damage would have been caused to biodiversity and heritage and there would have been noise and pollution issues for local people.”