Following questions from our stakeholders, we’ve prepared this blog to answer some of the questions which occur frequently.

What is AgriTech?

AgriTech comprises the science-based and / or technology-based development of products, services and commercial applications that are designed to improve yield, resource efficiency, sustainability, health and profitability in agriculture, horticulture and the food chain.

What is the proposal?

The vision for ARC is that it will be the UK’s first global-scale technology park that will be purpose-built to accommodate the needs of the fast-growing UK AgriTech sector. In so doing it will assist very significantly in the achievement of a number of key, high-level policy objectives that seek to place the UK in the forefront of the advances in agricultural technology that are needed to address effectively the twin global challenges of alleviating hunger and radically improving the sustainability of agricultural practices.

It will not be a research and development campus, although it is likely to include elements of these. The emphasis will be on the commercialisation process. This is where real and substantial progress is needed in order to meet the policy objectives.

The above will be achieved through the development of up to 112,000 sqm (gross) employment floor space on a site that will support approximately 4,000 new jobs. The plans include a 30,000 SQFT innovation hub to support space for startup and scaleup companies, and space for global HQs as well as land for on-site technology demonstration and crop trials, all sited in a restored parkland location. Plans also include energy generation on site, an electricity sub-station to provide energy for a wider, power-cut prone area, whilst transport improvements will benefit existing users, as well as ensuring future users are able to access the site.

Drawing upon the experience of other leading international centres of excellence in this sector, the AgriTech park will provide a bespoke environment to help companies develop, commercialise and market new agricultural technologies. The Park will provide the innovative facilities and flexible spaces required to ensure that the needs of the various different types of potential occupier are met, from large established AgriTech companies to start up and grow on space for smaller companies.

Why do we need the development?

The effects of Brexit and climate breakdown mean it is too late for ‘business-as-usual’ – the time for urgent action is now. The UK cannot hope to feed itself in the future, tackle climate change and be globally competitive without:

  • the utilisation of new approaches provided by AgriTech and
  • a dedicated physical site for AgriTech companies to gather, collaborate and address these challenges.

The development of a dedicated AgriTech Park is necessary if the step change in the role of the AgriTech sector in the UK economy that is envisaged by policy (see below) is to be achieved.

In the absence of a dedicated AgriTech site, the future growth of AgriTech in the Cambridge area would be significantly constrained.  Importantly, it is likely that much of the AgriTech-related business activity that would otherwise have taken place in the Cambridge area will instead go to locations elsewhere in Europe, the USA or the Far East.

The AgriTech park will be able to draw on the expertise base in and around Cambridge. Due to the changing nature of AgriTech, as it moves towards inter-disciplinary solutions which require the combination of multiple technologies. This makes the development unsuitable for other locations which only specialise in agriscience, but very suitable indeed for Cambridge which provides a wealth of enabling technologies including engineering, ICT, data, physics, chemistry and environmental sciences as well as plant and crop science.

Are the proposals supported by policy?

The South Cambridgeshire Local Plan was adopted in March 2018 but does not recognise the existence of the AgriTech sector. However, the proposals are compliant with the South Cambridgeshire Local Plan 2018 as it supports the existing cluster of biotech locally and complies with all of the key policies.

The sub regional and national policies seek to promote the AgriTech sector in order to restore the UK’s competitiveness in agriculture. Key policies that bear especially on the importance of the AgriTech sector not just to the UK but more specifically to Cambridgeshire are as follows:

  • UK Industrial Strategy: “We will put the UK at the forefront of the global move to high-efficiency agriculture”;
  • Technology and Innovation Futures
  • East of England Science and Innovation Audit
  • Cambridge and Peterborough Independent Economic Review (CPIER)
  • Cambridge and Peterborough Local Industrial Strategy
  • Partnering for Prosperity – A new deal for the Cambridge-Milton Keynes-Oxford Arc
  • Government Response to ‘Partnering for Prosperity’
  • The Oxford-Cambridge Arc – Government ambition and joint declaration between Government and local partners
  • Growing the Bioeconomy
  • CPCA Assurance Framework

These, taken individually and together, represent a very powerful statement, at the highest levels, of the importance to the UK economy of building on the existing AgriTech sector in the Cambridge area to make it not only the UK capital of AgriTech but also a leading element in the drive to restore the UK’s international competitiveness in agriculture and make the Cambridgshire and Peterborough Combined Authority area the “top innovative economy in the world”. Action must be taken now to achieve these policy aims.

Why locate at Hinxton?

In locational terms, the Hinxton site is ideally placed to make a major contribution to meeting these aims and objectives. It falls within all four of the strategic policy designations where a very strong emphasis is placed on the need to sustain and strengthen economic growth, including in the AgriTech sector. It is easily accessible to Stansted Airport, London and of course Cambridge itself, by road and by rail.

It is also geographically within the existing clusters of research/technology and science parks that exist around Cambridge, and more particularly within the southern bioscience cluster. The significance of this lies in the importance, recognised in policy as well as being clear from empirical evidence, of clustering to the growth and success of knowledge-based businesses.

Who is behind the scheme?

SmithsonHill is a joint venture between Russell Smith Farms and Hill Commercial Investments.

What is the planning status of the scheme?

Following detailed site surveys and research, an outline planning application was submitted in September 2017. While the application was refused by South Cambs District Council in March 2018, an appeal was lodged and a 5 week public inquiry took place in June and July 2019.  The Inspector’s report is due to be submitted to the Secretary of State in November 2019 and a decision is expected early in 2020.

How will roads be affected?

All transport related matters have been agreed between SmithsonHill, their transport consultants and Cambridgeshire County Highways and Highways England. That agreement has followed a rigorous and thorough assessment of the application material and the submission of further material which together conclusively demonstrate that the impacts of the development are acceptable and that a successful sustainable transport strategy can be delivered.

All the proposed measures will be secured through appropriate planning conditions and obligations which have now been agreed with the highway authorities.

Will the proposals impact the green belt?

The main AgriTech Park sits entirely outside of the Green Belt. The proposed transport hub does, however, sit within the Green Belt. The works themselves are very limited and consist of the provision of bus shelters and secure cycle parking which will have a small footprint and are very limited in their visual impact. The total extent of built development proposed in the Green Belt would be less than 0.7ha.

Due to their nature, the proposed works are acceptable in Green Belt policy terms as they comprise “local transport infrastructure which can demonstrate a requirement for a Green Belt location”, and “preserve its openness and do not conflict with the purposes of including land within it” (NPPF para 146(c)). The transport hub will serve local needs of both those who work at the development and are visitors to it and local people who are walking and cycling in the area or who arrive at or depart from Whittlesford Parkway Station and find it convenient to use the new facilities. The works will therefore promote sustainable transport in the local area, both to and from the development and more generally, in accordance with important objectives in that respect that are set out in NPPF Chapter 9.

The transport hub is an essential element of the proposed sustainable transport strategy, which is itself an integral and necessary component of the development; and there is no alternative location for them outside the Green Belt.

 

There is more information about our project available here.