COVENTRY’S plans for massive population growth to become a ‘top ten city’ have been dealt a blow with the government rejecting plans for a leading jobs scheme on Greenbelt land.
After years of planning, the Coventry and Warwickshire Gateway scheme around Coventry Airport for “up to 14,000 jobs” was finally rejected by communities secretary Eric Pickles.
The ruling, after an inspector held a public inquiry last year, was that the so-called “very special circumstances” required to overturn government Greenbelt protections did not exist.
More than a thousand objectors including Kenilworth MP Jeremy Wright and Warwickshire parish councils had warned two councils – Coventry City Council and Warwick District Council – that the case did not stack up.
Both councils’ planning committees voted against opponents’ research in backing the scheme, on which much public money and resource was used.
Anti-Gateway councillors were removed from Warwick District Council’s planning committee, which is obliged to be neutral, or “quasi-judicial”, in assessing planning applications on “material planning considerations”, including Greenbelt policy.
Independent research backed campaigners’ claims that the scheme could not create anything like 14,000 manufacturing and distribution jobs, including 4000 at Whitley Business Park which is now getting road infrastructure improvements without need for the Gateway.
Campaigners argued more suitable alternative brownfield sites had already been allocated for such employment schemes, including Whitley Park.
The Gateway was the top priority regeneration scheme of the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership between councils and businesses formerly chaired by Sir Peter Rigby, the airport owner behind the Gateway proposal.
The decision is also a blow for Coventry’s ambitions to grow the city’s population by a third to up to 430,000 with up to 36,000 new homes over 20 years including on with Greenbelt development, which would have to be supported by new jobs.
The Community Group of residents opposed to Gateway said they were “extremely relieved”, adding Mr Pickles had “demonstrated unstinting support” for protecting “the green lungs around our cities which also protect us from uncontrolled urban sprawl, and has promoted regeneration within those cities.”
The Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) pledged it would fight any further attempts by Warwick District Council to re-designate the Greenbelt part of the Gateway site on its side of the border as employment land
Coventry North west Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson said it was “a real slap in the face for our city.”
Coventry South MP Labour Jim Cunningham said: “I am pleased that the government has at least come to a decision and ended the uncertainty. But I share in the disappointment of the business community that the news is not positive.”
Peter Burns, president of the Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “We are genuinely shocked by this decision and it is completely at odds with the government’s policy on localism and economic growth.
“We will speak to the developers, the LEP and all other parties involved to see where the Gateway can go from here.”