‘Eyesore’ approved to bring new jobs to Leighton

A graphic of the planned warehouse for Miniclipper. Picture: Woods Hardwick
A graphic of the planned warehouse for Miniclipper. Picture: Woods Hardwick

The threat of one of Leighton Buzzard’s biggest firms pulling out of the area and the lure of 70 new jobs has led to the approval of a massive warehouse which councillors accept will be a significant “blot” on the Green Belt.

Miniclipper Logistics, of Billington Road, employs 100 staff, and intends to move operations into a 1.79-hectare site off the A505 at Deans Farm, near Stanbridge.

Central Beds Council voted through the plan on Wednesday for the development which will feature a 2,184sq metre/12 metre high warehouse, two covered canopy areas of 975 and 1,175sq metres, a 346sq metre ground floor office and a 314sq metre first floor office, plus parking for 50 cars and 40 HGVs.

Councillors and CBC officers agreed that although it would have seriously harm the Green Belt, that was outweighed by the “special circumstances” of supporting economic growth.

In the report to the development management committee, David Lock Associates, acting as agent for applicant Mr P Dean and Brickhill Properties GP Ltd, warned of the consquences of turning down the scheme.

Their statement read: “The alternative for Miniclipper is to move away from Central Bedfordshire to possibly Milton Keynes (MK), where sites for commercial development are available, especially with an end user in tow.

“Of course, MK has already benefitted from Millennium Mats and Franklin Products relocation from Leighton Buzzard, due to their inability to find a suitable alternative locally. To lose Miniclipper to MK would I am sure you agree, be a massive blow to the local community, economy and image of the district as a place to live, work, develop, grow, invest and do business.”

Duncan Chadwick, of David Lock Associates, told the meeting how the plan was a “fantastic opportunity for the borough”.

He said: “This is a proposal backed by a local employer looking to stay in and expand in the district creating up to 70 new jobs, but also retaining local employment, supply chains and business connections. This surely must carry a great deal of weight.”

Mr Chadwick added that Central Beds Council had accepted “special circumstances” existed on two speculative applications where a specific employer hadn’t been lined up.

He said: “This company has been in Leighton Buzzard since 1971 and wants to stay in the borough and local area to retain local jobs.”

He said a search had failed to find a suitable or commercially viable alternative base and said there were compelling reasons to back the plan which had “limited harm to the Green Belt”.

Stanbridge Parish councillor Elaine Sutton said the residents of Stanbridge strongly objected to the “extremely large commercial development”.

“The development is too large in height and footprint. With 170 staff, 40 HGVs and 50 cars, such a large development would impose on the green belt in our area. The building will be seen from local beauty spots such as Totternhoe Knolls and by local residents. Station Road would be most likely impacted by the view.”

Councillor Sutton said there were concerns about light and noise pollution due to the 24-hour operation and said proposed tree screening would offer no protection.

She said that there were also fears that traffic would back up on the A505 because of HGVs accessing the site. However the meeting was told there would be just two HGVs per half hour and that officers were confident there would be no bypass problems.

Cllr Sutton added: “There are also areas in Leighton Buzzard which have been set aside for such development. This should be considered first.”

Thurstan Adburgham, of Beds CPRE, said the scheme would be “a classic blot on the landscape”.

He complained: “This will be a hugely prominent and incongruous structure. One that belongs in the setting of an urban industrial estate rather than the middle of green belt countryside.”

He disputed the CBC officer report which stated the development would be “aesthetically pleasing and as such, would stand as an appropriate gateway feature to Leighton Buzzard and Stanbridge village”.

Mr Adburgham said: “Neither Leighton Buzzard or Stanbridge would wish the welcome mat to their communities to take the form of a large warehouse prominently located in their outlying countryside.

“Special circumstances seems to rest entirely on Miniclipper claims that this site is the only one in the area which can meet their expansion needs in terms of timescale and affordability.

“Does the desire to expand amount to special circumstances as to justify a hugely prominent warehouse in a rural Green Belt location.”

Councillor Tom Nicolls said: “I came in absolutely determined to support this application because it is fundamental to the economy of the area, not explicity the applicant.”

He questioned the claimed two HGV movements per half hour if the staffing was being “virtually doubled”.

On the visual impact, he said: “The loss of openness of Green Belt would be insignificant?... No, it blinking won’t! It won’t blend it, it won’t hide in the countryside. This is going to be a blot on the landscpape, let’s not hide it. At least if we are going to break eggs, let’s have the courtesy to say we are going to break some eggs. If the figure of 70 jobs is genuine then it is a valuable contribution to improve the prospects of the area.

“This is a big development out in a rural area. In due time there will probably be roads and houses there – in 10-15 years time. Right now what we will see as we go along the A505 is a very substantial building which is designed to show itself and no amount of landscaping is going to hide it.”

Councillor Ken Janes called for the design of the building to blend in with the background similar to the John Lewis building adjacent to the M1 near J13.

Councillor Nigel Young added: “This is a large building but I do support the application. We want a good materials and landscaping plan.”

Showing concern about night operations, Councillor Sue Clarke suggested the use of newer “white noise” reversing alarms which would less of an audible impact on residents than traditional beeping alarm, and queried whether this could be considered as a planning condition.

However Councillor David Bowater responded: “I have very grave concerns about us using the term ‘white noise’ in any specification. White noise was one of the ways of torturing Iraqi prisoners during the Iraq War and gets such a bad press.”

> The committee voted 8-2 in favour of the plans, with one abstention, on condition that the building be sympathetically designed/landscaped.

Was it right to put jobs before the green belt? Email news@lbobserver.co.uk