Agenda item

Breckland Employment Growth Study (Agenda Item 7)

Report of the Planning Policy Officers. 


A presentation will also be provided by the Consultants at the meeting.


Members are asked to note that due to its size, Appendix A to this report is attached as a separate document.


Councillor Kiddle-Morris said that the previous Employment Land Review had been carried out in 2006 and was significantly out of date.  Fresh evidence was needed for the Local Plan. 


The Planning Policy Officer introduced the report.  The study had focussed on two areas; to demonstrate that the Council had an appropriate level of employment growth; and to identify broad locations within the District for potential economic growth.  The study would supersede the previous Employment Land Review.


The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which had replaced old guidance, placed a high importance on employment growth.  To be sound the Local Plan would have to demonstrate that the business needs and the economic market within the District and how it would change over the 20 years of the Plan were understood.  The long term protection of sites which had failed to come forward for development needed to be avoided and the appropriateness of existing sites needed to be rechecked.


Before introducing Ciaran Gunne-Jones from Nathaniel Lichfield & Partners who was to give a presentation, the Planning Policy Officer advised Members that the Employment Growth Study went hand in hand with the next item on the Agenda, the Localised Housing Targets and both needed to be considered together.


Mr Gunne-Jones then gave a PowerPoint presentation on Appendix A to the report which had been issued as a Supplement to the Agenda.


The Study, which covered the period up to 2031, considered a range of sectors but particularly focused on the B Use-Classes.  It sought to establish the future floorspace/land requirements and where they should be located.


The methodology of the Study was split into three stages: 1) to take stock of existing economic trends and existing sites; 2) to assess future requirements; and 3) to draw the two together to assess the suitability of the sites to meet the identified needs.


Historically there had been strong levels of growth but the numbers of industrial jobs had remained steady with office based jobs increasing steadily.  The main areas of decline were in agriculture.


The labour force had a below average skills profile with people employed in higher skilled jobs usually commuting out of the District.  Breckland was a net exporter of labour but it also imported labour from adjacent local authorities.  About 8% of people in the District worked from home.


Breckland had the second largest employment space in the area after Kings Lynn & West Norfolk.  That space was mostly located in key centres such as Attleborough, Dereham and Thetford.  Rural areas were also an important source of small scale office and commercial employment areas.


Information gathered from interviews with property agents identified that greatest demand was for small to medium sized industrial and distribution space focussed on Thetford with the strongest demand along the A11 corridor.  The dualling of the A11 was an important driver of future demand.


The information from the agents had also identified issues with outdated stock due to lack of investment.  The low rental levels were not conducive to delivering new employment space.


In conclusion the site assessment showed that there was a reasonable range of employment sites which were fit for purpose.


Moving on to future growth needs, it was pointed out that it was not an exact science.  A range of approaches had been used to compare and contrast scenarios.  Those figures were then benchmarked against past growth trends and all the scenarios predicted a lower level of growth.  That might be because more muted growth was expected due to the uncertainty of recovery coming out of the recession.


Numbers were converted into land requirements showing a need for 2-9ha for offices and 25-65ha for industrial uses.  Those figures were then compared to the current supply available.


The District currently had sufficient land supply with a significant surplus.  The next questions to address were; was the land in the right place; was it attractive to the market; and would it come forward for development.  The NPPF requires a demonstration of deliverability. 


Market feedback suggested that there was an important need to support investment and to upgrade existing facilities.  It was known that some businesses had relocated outside of the District because they had been unable to find suitable space.  Move-on space as businesses expanded was needed and was generally absent from the District.


Attleborough and Snetterton Heath had sufficient land to meet future need.  There was scope to rationalise sites in Dereham.  Thetford had the largest supply and the greatest market demand.  Swaffham and rural areas had scope for a reduction in the existing available land supply.


The implications and options were set out:


1)                 Rationalise supply – concentrate on key locations and seek to achieve critical mass

2)                 Adopt a more flexible approach to secure the delivery of B Use-Class development; look at mixed use options to help viability

3)                 Release old / poor quality sites where market demand was weak.  Constrained sites should be considered very carefully to ensure a new supply of land was available.

4)                 In the longer term there was scope for a new small to medium sized enterprise centre aimed at keeping firms from leaving the District

5)                 The role of smaller rural settlements and their employment requirements needed to be recognised.  They provided a healthy base for the supply of workshop units, etc.  The level of demand pointed to a need for a supportive policy framework to maintain rural vibrancy.


Members were invited to ask questions.


Councillor Cowen raised the following points:


·        Broadband – high quality speeds were needed.  The lack of that might be a controlling factor in firms expanding and might explain why some left the District.  That applied to employment and retail.

·        House completions – looking at the numbers that had been delivered in the last ten years he could not see how the figure of 700+ houses per year could be justified.

·        Lots of people were moving into lower priced areas in Thetford but continuing to commute out of the District to work.

·        Fitness for purpose was a fundamental factor.  A large number of units had been developed but income was reducing and it was a huge task encouraging people to stay.

·        Energy need – there was not enough to meet current need in areas such as Snetterton.  Growth could not be contemplated until that was sorted.

·        Agriculture – although it was losing jobs it did not mean that it was reducing.  Methodology was changing.  Agriculture underpinned Breckland’s economy.  The District had free draining soil suitable for pigs, chickens etc.  It could not grow arable without irrigation.  There was a need for improved distribution and transport to support agriculture.


Councillor Duigan was concerned that planning policies did not support offices in town centres.


Councillor North noted that often planning applications for large housing estates had an element of employment land on their periphery, but that was not always a good location for it. 


Councillor Joel asked whether migrant workers were impacting Breckland’s employment areas.


Mr Gunne-Jones responded to the points raised. 


·        He agreed that access to Broadband was essential.  It was the second most cited issue after the dualling of the A11 and it affected all sectors.

·        The national trend was that agriculture was losing jobs and its increasing complexity drove other requirements, such as distribution and transport.  It was important to have a flexible policy approach.

·        Retail was important and would be considered in the planning for the future economy.

·        In principle Planning Policy did allow for offices in town centres.  An element of both town centre and edge of town space was required.

·        With regard to the capability of delivering the number of houses / employment space / infrastructure required, there was a need to examine proposed developments for their deliverability.  In recent examinations Inspectors had asked about land supply and suitability.

·        The changes in the labour force had not been looked at in detail.  The trend base for both past and future growth highlighted the skills gaps for supporting certain types of growth.


The Chairman asked about the travel to work data and it was confirmed that it would be updated when the 2011 census data was released in 2014.


Councillor Cowen expanded on employment opportunity drivers.  An employer wanting to move into an area looked at land and workforce availability.  That was linked to housing which in turn was affected by schools, health service and infrastructure.  An employer requiring highly skilled people would need to know that their infrastructure needs could be met.


Councillor Kiddle-Morris noted the conclusions of the study.  He thought that enterprise centres for business start-ups were a good idea and something which could be encouraged by putting them near to town centres.  He asked whether allowing A Class uses on a site was being considered to provide a kick start to B Class development.


Mr Gunne-Jones advised that viability issues should be considered.  Some sites might need to be subsidised.  The general principle was that mixed use development brought employment sites forward.  Residential, amenity and work uses could be accommodated together although maybe not B Use-Classes.  The general point was that flexibility was needed and it was important to ensure that when mixed use was permitted the employment land part of the site was delivered.


RESOLVED that the consultant’s report, together with NLP’s presentation and Members’ comments, be accepted as part of the evidence base for the Local Plan.


Supporting documents: