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FAQ from First Public Exhibition 30th June to 2nd July

SmithsonHill – First Public Exhibition FAQ, 17th August 2016

Following our first public exhibition in June / July where we shared with local councillors, residents and businesses our emerging proposals for a site for AgriTech and related sectors on our land at Hinxton; we have now reviewed all of the feedback forms and are happy to share with the community the frequently asked questions (FAQs). The questions are all detailed below, or you can download the pdf here. We will continue to engage with the community on the proposals for the site.

Q: The exhibition materials refer to approximately 100,000 sqm of lettable commercial floor space.  How much land is this likely to result in being developed on the site?

A: One of our key guiding design principles is for any development to be set within extensive landscape and green areas. A high quality and attractive environment is essential to attract occupiers, for them to attract and retain the best staff, and to create a healthy and stimulating work environment.

The main site extends to around 240 hectares.  Assuming an average of two storeys, this would equate to around 6 hectares of building footprint with around a further 12 hectares for car parking and roads to serve the development.  Built development (buildings, roads and car parking) associated with this scale of development would therefore represent around only 8% of the site. These figures are very sensitive to the overall site area, building heights, and layout which are yet not confirmed, so the exact figures will change as the proposal evolves. The intent however is to create a well-landscaped and attractive green setting for the business activity.

Q: The site is quality agricultural land.  Why take it out of food production?

A: In the UK there are 4.6 million hectares of crop production land.  The proposed site at Hinxton is less than 1/1000th of one percent (0.001%) of this crop area and the technology which will be developed at Hinxton will mean that total food output can be increased whilst reducing the use of inputs such as fertilisers and sprays.

As many of the technologies developed at Hinxton will also be applicable internationally the gains to be made from new technology are potentially at least 100 times larger than the increased output which is possible in the UK (globally the area of crop land is estimated at 882million hectares or 190 times the area of crops grown in the UK (source Statista.com).

Q: Why can’t AgriTech-related businesses locate at other science parks and sites elsewhere in the area?

A: The East of England has world-class science to underpin the AgriTech sector, but unlike sectors such as ICT which has established business clusters at Martlesham Innovation near Ipswich or the life sciences cluster at Babraham, the AgriTech sector does not currently have an established park which clusters the companies involved in agricultural technologies together.  The existing successful clusters show that putting groups of similar companies together is synergistic and leads to extra growth and investment to create high quality jobs.

The land at Hinxton specifically is:

  • Suitable for field trials (indeed part of the site is already used for trials) with good irrigation
  • Located within walking distance from Whittlesford Parkway with rail links to Cambridge, London, Norwich and beyond and good access to Stansted, Luton and Heathrow airports
  • Sited at the heart of an existing Cambridge science park community within the internationally significant ‘South East Cambridge Cluster’
  • At the heart of the East of England agricultural sector, one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world
  • In close proximity to other AgriTech related companies with over 520 in the London-Stansted-Cambridge-Corridor and wider East of England region and AgriTech East
  • Owned by a willing landowner with a commitment to the local area
  • An area where there is availability of additional land nearby for field trials, including around 2,000 acres (800 hectares) under control of Russell Smith Farms and a network of local farms (circa 25,000 acres, 10,000 hectares)
  • Beyond the Cambridge and London green belts.

 

Q: Why do AgriTech businesses need to be located on the same site?  Staff should be able to work remotely and companies communicate via email etc.  

A: The success of business clusters is well researched.  Many of the most exciting developments in AgriTech are in areas which overlap between traditional business sectors (e.g. the use of ICT and sensors to monitor crop diseases requires expertise in crop science, ICT, sensors and potentially computer vision systems).  By clustering companies who have complimentary skills together our development can lead to collaborative working between multiple companies to create new technologies that can be commercialised across the World.

Q: What sort of things would be done on site in the context of AgriTech?

A: Our vision is to engage with companies that will develop and commercialise new technologies to improve efficiency in Agriculture and the food chain, for example:

  • Apps showing crop development
  • Precision agriculture e.g. controlling the use of water in agriculture using drones / sensor technology so that only dry areas are sprayed
  • Development of sensor technology / tagging through the food chain / Internet of Things
  • Data analysis companies to analyse the extensive amount of data that is collected e.g. sensors on tractors / combines monitoring efficiency, irrigation sensors related to technical and environmental performance
  • Glasshouses (controlled environment) – small scale for demonstrations and testing of new crop production technology
  • Crop trials (expanding the existing use of the land for trials)

 

Q: Is it intended that Genetic Modification (GM) will be undertaken on site?

A: The use of genetic modification is heavily regulated by the Government with significant publication requirements. There are currently no GM crops grown commercially in the UK.

While no-one can rule GM out in the future, our vision is that the site would be more focussed on the development of new engineering technologies, apps, Internet of Things and environmental technologies (e.g. water management) where there is significant demand from industry in the UK and globally.

Q: Won’t AgriTech result in a loss of employment in agriculture as farming techniques become more automated?

A: This is already the trend, and this will continue whether our development takes place or not. We can be pretty certain that there will be more automation, higher labour costs and that agricultural employment will continue to decline (which is a trend in all countries globally).

However, AgriTech as a sector will grow and create new higher value jobs for those who can design, build and manage the new automated systems to make agriculture more efficient.  By supporting this growth in the East of England the development at Hinxton will be at the forefront of this change and create new high skill, high paid careers for local people who meet the growing demand for this automation internationally as well as in the UK.

Q: What implications does Brexit have in relation to the future of AgriTech?

A: About 38% of the UK’s food consumption is currently imported (nearly 50% of livestock feed is included).  Whether we are in the EU or not the Government is committed to increasing UK food production so that we are less dependent on imports.  The AgriTech sector will contribute significantly towards achieving this aim.

While it is unclear at the moment what the decision to leave the EU means for foreign investment and funding, it has been suggested that we are likely to remain in the single market and will therefore probably continue to source food as we do at the moment from across Europe as well other parts of the World.

On the basis that food prices may increase as a result of the decision to leave the EU the need for better UK food security and local production will become even more important.

European funding has been important in supporting research and commercialisation projects in AgriTech.  Whilst this relationship and the way funding is provided may change, the government (and leave campaign) have confirmed that they want to see a continuation of collaborative research and commercialisation projects with European partners and will include continued co-operation in this area in the Brexit deal.

It is in our view an ever more important time to demonstrate to the world that it is business as usual and the UK and Cambridge is still a great place to do business globally.  Now is the time for a concerted effort to commercialise and gain added value from the world-class research for which the UK is renowned.

Q: Will you rule out housing on the site forever?

A: Many people have asked, including potential occupiers and other businesses but residential development is not part of the current thinking.

Q: How would the highway improvements to the A505 / A1301 junction be funded?

A: The traffic congestion at the junction of the A505 and A1301 is an existing problem, which the County Council is now investigating as part of its wider consideration of the transport infrastructure in the area.  It is envisaged that future development in the area would contribute towards improvements to the junction to increase its capacity via planning obligations in addition to funding from other sources such as the City Deal and Local Enterprise Partnership.

We have also led a significant consultation on transport issues and possible solutions in the area, details of which can be found by following this link.

Q: How do the proposals for AgriTech on the SmithsonHill land relate to the 25-year vision published by the Wellcome Trust?

A: We are seeking to work closely with Wellcome and the other science parks in the South East Cambridge Cluster to ensure that the potential impacts of future development, particularly with respect to transport are addressed in a co-ordinated way.

We have already established a Transport Group, made up of representatives from the surrounding science parks and are actively facilitating local discussion to inform the City Deal.

In terms of Wellcome’s 25 year vision, development of the site would be complimentary to that vision and would not prejudice it from being delivered.

We welcome any input from the local community and businesses on these and any other questions.

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