Thank you for taking time to read some if not all of the outline planning application material submitted to South Cambridgeshire District Council (SCDC), or for attending parish council meetings to discuss the SmithsonHill proposals. The outline planning application (SCDC ref: S/4099/17/OL)  is a large undertaking in-line with the scale of our project but as you can see from the application we have engaged broadly with the local community and wish to continue to do so.

The recent feedback and meetings have raised some common issues and we would like to provide answers to them with this FAQ. We welcome all letters of support via the official South Cambs District Council website.

Why is AgriTech so important?

Our focus on AgriTech has not been developed in isolation. Our application supports a significant and long-term government initiative. We have the space to deliver a site for AgriTech right here, and we have worked with various Departments within Government on both the Science and Innovation Audit and the Industrial Strategy to ensure that the park addresses major UK strategic needs – our outline planning application was submitted in-line with these releases.

However AgriTech isn’t just a UK initiative – Barrack Obama spoke at the Global Food Innovation Summit in 2017 on this very same subject where he stated “the path to a sustainable food future will require unleashing the creative power of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs… to deploy innovations and climate smart agriculture”. The UN also reported in 2017 that after more than a decade of falling levels of global hunger, the number of people who were hungry increased by 38 million in in 2016 and remains a key challenge for the World.

One of the most exciting things about AgriTech is the convergence with other technology – much in the same way that new technologies in IT, engineering and healthcare have converged for example in keyhole surgery, so it will be for AgriTech. With our site sitting in the heart of the UK farming community, and with the potential to link to the world-class expertise in Cambridge and the region in life sciences, IT and engineering, ARC will be in a prime position to facilitate this collaboration. As Head of AgriTech East, Dr Belinda Clarke says

“Scientific knowledge is gained by asking big questions; innovation is achieved by tackling big problems. Both approaches are invaluable in a third agricultural revolution but the essential element for success is the involvement of those who understand the land and have a passion for farming.”

This is an initiative that will contribute to the future of global food production, enabling us to rise to the challenge of feeding the world sustainably – much as Wellcome has applied innovation in the use of the Genome for health, ARC will do the same for food production. Read more at http://www.smithsonhill.co.uk/3_agritech_reports/

And within agricultural innovation, Cambridge already has a long legacy to build on which we can proudly enhance further – what will be the next Maris Piper?

Local Transport

Our concepts have aimed to be visionary and collaborative. They have leveraged the fact that we also own the land opposite to the site which has given us a more creative license to address not just the roads but also pedestrian, cyclist and horse access. Our proposals come from over two years of public consultation and we are proud to say that they are not just our ideas but those asked of us from members of the public. For example – a safe crossing to Sawston, greater access to circular walks, a quick bus drop off directly from the A505 (saving time turning at the station), safe crossing of the A505 at McDonalds and better access into Whittlesford station especially for pedestrians.

Buses are a key concern in the area and it is very easy to focus on short term issues such as the No 7 bus – clearly this is never going to be enough for today nor does it reflect how we will travel between places in 20 years’ time. There are however some short term wins in getting a more reliable service and also looking at how some of the existing private bus services could be utilitised for the public.

Looking forward, our team are contributing to some of the most pioneering initiatives around transport in the next 10-30 years and the issues we face today around cars will not be the same in years to come. We have allowed for 40% electric charging points on site but in the long term it is highly unlikely that we will own our own cars or even be ‘driving’ them.  But we still have to come up with ideas that can address the additional short term pressures we all face.

Our highways mitigation proposals allow not only for the development but also take into account future background growth over the next 12 years to 2030, including committed developments – those with planning permission or applications submitted as at November 2017. We have modelled the existing traffic over the last two years and then working with County Council Officers have added on all other committed developments in the area plus the predicted 20% background growth in traffic up until our project is completed. Our figures then get added on top of this growth and our solutions have to work to address this entire growth figure. Similarly all future planning applications and proposals in the area such as the proposed Garden Village in Uttlesford will need to take future growth, including our proposals, into account.

It is important to note that the eventual solution is not SmithsonHill’s to address on its own. We need to continue the collaborative approach between business parks and developments that we initiated in 2016, and for a solution to be defined by Cambridgeshire County Council, SCDC and Uttlesford. We will continue to innovate and contribute as part of that overall process.

Green belt

The proposed park for AgriTech sits outside the Green Belt. Following on from our public consultations we felt it was necessary to consider using a small part of our land within Pampisford Parish for transport improvement use.

These proposals include a cycle/footpath/bridle path and safe crossing from Sawston which comes around the edge of the field (the main part of the field remains untouched) and links to the reopening of the old road and bridge over the river to provide a safe and faster link to Whittlesford Parkway Station. Tied in with this is a bus stop off the A505 for public and park buses (this is not a park and ride but a bus / cycle interchange focused on provision of an enhanced bus drop off / collection area to serve the station, along with supporting cycle facilities including cycle hire), a bus lane to the A505/A1301 roundabout and a cycle bridge over the roundabout to a new open access path down to the avenue of Hinxton Grange to the east of the A1301.

Also in response to consultation we have allowed for new drainage areas to address existing surface water issues associated with the A1301/A505 roundabout.

We firmly believe that utilising a small area of green belt land for safe access for the local community and the better provision of bus services is a valid consideration.

Infrastructure Implications

Water/ flooding – as per prior consultations and community engagement, this has been a key consideration within our planning. Our team have been working hard to ensure that we have addressed all issues regarding the impact of the development. In response to a number of comments we have allowed for a new drainage area on land adjacent to the A1301/A505 roundabout, along with an area on the main site to help address the impact of existing surface water runoff down Tichbaulk Lane (along the southern edge of the site) onto North End Road in Hinxton and onto the High Street. The Environment Agency have already responded to our outline planning application stating they have no objection in principle and have set a number of suggested conditions that they are pleased to work with us on. We therefore have no reason to believe this should continue to be a concern for locals but would be willing to answer any further specific concerns.

Electricity – our investigations uncovered a potential significant shortfall in energy for the area including all substations up to Fulbourn. It was highlighted by South Cambs in 2013 as being critical in the area and it is now nearing collapse. Working with UK Power Networks we have included an area for a new primary substation, out of sight but within our site, to address the needs of the local community and improve resilience at Sawston substation, whilst powering our AgriTech facilities. Without this key infrastructure another local party/authority would need to step up to pay for this work in the next couple of years.

Rats – we have been working on site for the last three years on ecology. This work has included detailed studies on many species and the impact on local flora and fauna. Nothing to date has suggested an increase in the rat population locally.

Local Plan – as residents you are aware that the emerging local plan has not yet been adopted and is years behind schedule. However the region is under considerable pressure and hence our application has been brought forward outside of the local plan as the need, as articulated by the government (in line with the Industrial Strategy) is right now. So whilst it is correct that the site is not allocated in the emerging Local Plan, the Plan highlights the district as being a premier location for high technology, will respond to the anticipated growth in new sectors and will support proposals building on employment clusters and the development of new employment sites.

Farm land – The proposals build on our great farming heritage and as such the majority of agricultural land within our landholding will be maintained for field trials (as existing) and crop production. Overall the increase in agricultural productivity as a result of the project will be vastly over and above the amount of agricultural land lost to the development, which represents less than 1/1000th of a percent of the farmland in the region. We will also facilitate public access to the site, including 21 hectares of parkland around Hinxton Grange. Our Health Impact Assessment summary is a good synopsis on what the project will add locally, regionally, nationally and globally.

Tenants

An outline planning application brings with it a chicken and egg scenario. No AgriTech tenant will commit until planning has been approved. This was the scenario for the Biomedical Campus whose planning approach started more than five years prior to AstraZeneca being secured. However we have met with South Cambs with a prospective tenant, have a signed Memorandum of Understanding for a 30,000 sq ft building and letters of support/ interest both within the planning application and as a response to the application including the following organisations: –

  • Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)
  • Arlabion
  • Bayer
  • Beeswax Dyson Farming Ltd
  • Cambridge Agritech
  • Dogtooth Technologies
  • Dynasty Biotechnology
  • Entomics
  • Granta UK
  • H R Philpot & Son (Barleylands) Ltd
  • Hummingbird Technologies
  • Iconix Park
  • Stanleys Farm
  • Syngenta
  • University of Lincoln

Another prospective tenant we have been working closely with fulfils our objective around community cohesion – Cambridge Food Hub. We are working with the Food Hub to provide a resource for the local community whilst giving Cambridge an option for sustainable food – find out more on this video.

This is a commercial site for AgriTech businesses. We have taken advice from Savills and other agents who have confirmed there is significant demand for this type of facility in this location. We have also had significant interest from overseas since the application was submitted.

The comprehensive alternative sites assessment undertaken to support the outline planning application sets out why the site is the only suitable and available location for the development, both within South Cambridgeshire district, and the much wider defined area of search within the East of England region.

But what is in it for you, the local residents?

We are very respectful that this is another of a number of key developments in the south of Cambridge and into Essex but this is not another secure, faceless site, nor is it a significant development of housing.

ARC will provide access to the local community. The existing historic parkland around Hinxton Grange will all be restored and opened up for community use. Leisure routes will be developed around the site for cycling, walking, horse-riding with facilities including a natural swimming pond provided to encourage healthy living and working. All of this facilitated by a better road and multi-user path network to access the site – a significant improvement to what is available today.

The food hub has been eluded to as “essentially a distribution centre” – this could not be further from reality. It will be a key place for demonstrations of farm to fork – welcoming schools and education programmes as well as delivering an onsite café for park workers and their visitors. To really understand how positive this will be please do take time to view this video.

As mentioned at the start of this FAQ – this is a site that will develop world class solutions to feed our families, future generations and the world. You will reside – and maybe even work – in this ever increasing innovative area which with our proposals will maintain much of our landholding for farming with minimal impact overall on the landscape. Similarly we will be working with and reach out to local farms and farmers to add to the land on offer to trial new technologies and have further crop trials. This in turn will protect more farmland against further development as we will seek to secure long term tenancies and agreements.

 

We are very happy to hear from you, and will update this FAQ in line with any other questions that arise and of course all the planning documents are available on our website as well as the  council’s website (application ref: S/4099/17/OL). Please get in touch by our contact form or email hello@smithsonhill.co.uk