PLANS to expand Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) research and development centre on Green Belt land between the A45 and Coventry Airport have been given the green light by the Government.
The proposals to build a £250 million expansion on a 60 acre site next to the existing JLR site at Whitley South have not been ‘called in’ by Secretary of State Greg Clark after both Coventry City Council and Warwick District Council signed off on the plans.
This means the application will now be handled by the local authorities.
A letter from the Department for Communities and Local Government to Coventry council confirming the Secretary of State’s decision, read: “The policy makes it clear that the power to call in a case will only be used very selectively.
“The Government is committed to give more power to councils and communities to make their own decisions on planning issues, and believes planning decisions should be made at the local level wherever possible.
“In deciding whether to call in the application, the Secretary of State has considered his policy on calling in planning applications.
“The Secretary of State has decided, having had regard to this policy, not to call in the application.
“He is content that the application should be determined by the local planning authority.”
As well as the research and development centre, the plans also include the provision for a bridge to be built across the A45 to link the JLR sites, hotel accommodation, catering and retail facilities, the creation of new areas of open public space and a country park between the new development and Baginton village.
And with plans set to be officially signed off in the coming months, work could start on the site later this year.
Commenting on the announcement, Coventry council’s cabinet member for business, enterprise and employment, Councillor Jim O’Boyle said: “This development will further cement Coventry’s place at the heart of automotive innovation, growth and success and its great news now and for the many talented and ambitious young people who live here and who can now aim for a job at Jaguar Land Rover.
“This news is also terrific for the many smaller firms in the area who already work with JLR and who will also benefit from their expansion.
“Now the real work begins to make sure the development is also a good neighbour – with plans to open up new areas of countryside and improvements to some of the busiest road junctions in the area.”
However, previous plans to build on the Green Belt near the airport have proved controversial.
In February last year, then Secretary of State Eric Pickles scrapped plans for the Gateway Project – a £450 million development expected to create up to 10,000 jobs for the region to be built on land north of the airport – following widescale public protests and concerns about the Green Belt.
Now, campaigners and local residents have hit out against the new expansion proposals – saying they could lose the ‘vital’ green space at Baginton fields.
While the current JLR expansion plans do not include proposals to build on the fields, campaigners are concerned they could be developed on in the future after the council re-designated the land for ’employment use’ earlier this year.
Speaking to the BBC, campaigner Linda Reece said: “The land is currently used by dog walkers and it is the gateway to the Sowe Valley trail.
“It’s a community hub – the whole communtity meets here.
“We just feel totally unsupported.”
The fields are currently used by dog walkers and are also vital habitats to natural wildlife – including foxes, badgers, deer and woodpeckers.
The campaigners had put in an application to Coventry council for the land to be redesignated as open space, but they say they have been ‘kept in the dark’ in the consultation process.
They also claim a letter of support from Coventry South MP, Jim Cunningham ‘went missing’ in the Council.
Ms Reece added: “The residents would like Baginton fields to be designated as open green space – meaning the land would be protected from development and open for the public to use.”