THE GOVERNMENT has pulled the plug on Coventry and Warwickshire Gateway.
The £450 million development – entirely funded by private investment – was expected to directly create up to 10,000 jobs for the region and was to have included a new technology hub on land near Coventry Airport together with a major manufacturing and logistics hub.
The scheme had received the backing and approval of Warwick District Council and Coventry City Council, and was also backed by the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership.
But the decision was called in for review by the government following widescale public protests and concerns about the Greenbelt.
The proposal received around 1,000 objections, including from residents and parish councils in Warwickshire villages and environment campaigners, and Kenilworth and Southam Conservative MP Jeremy Wright, who is also the government’s attorney general.
And Secretary of State for Communities & Local Government Eric Pickles has now decided to throw out the plans.
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.
“There is a tremendous amount of work from all parties to bring growth and prosperity to Coventry and Warwickshire and very positive strides have been made, but 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 nearbly Whitley Business Park by supporting infrastructure.
Much of that infrastrcuture, including changes to roads around the A45/A46 Whitley junction, is already going ahead without approval for the Gateway.
Independent reports have challenged the scheme’s jobs estimates, claiming it was more likely to attract around 6,000 jobs at best.
Leader of Warwick District Council Andrew Mobbs expressed his disappointment at the news.
He 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 Green Belt 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 that the Secretary of State has given for his decision, and consider the implications of these as we move forward.”
But the decision will be a victory for campaigners who have claimed the scheme contravenes government rules on Greenbelt.
They argued the ‘very special circumstances’ required for the release of Greenbelt did not exist, not least because they claim more suitable sites have already been allocated for large employment schemes, including Ansty Park.
Local planning permission was granted on the condition Mr Pickles would not intervene in what was Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership’s flagship jobs project when Sir Peter was its chairman.
The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) welcomed the news.
A spokesman said: “The development would have torn a vast hole in the West Midlands Green Belt, which has largely prevented the outward sprawl of Coventry and kept it separate from Leamington Spa, Warwick and Kenilworth to the south.
“It would have dominated three local villages, Bubbenhall, Stoneleigh and Baginton, indeed Baginton would have pretty well lost its identity, and 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.”