Our Gatwick Diamond employment land is precious. As investment advisors often point out – they’re not making any more of it.
If we change the use of land from employment to housing, we lose it for good, and the potential jobs that could have been located there. If we let a retailer put a store and car park on a site previously occupied by industrial units, then it is possible that less jobs will be generated on the site than if there had been, say, a logistics hub, or an engineering manufacturer.
Getting developments through planning is difficult, so once the employment space is lost to a different use it could be some time, possibly a generation, before it is replaced by a new development on a different site.
Councils do try to resist the loss of employment land, generally, through their local plans. But recent changes to legislation – allowing conversion of offices to homes as “permitted development” for example make protecting employment space more difficult, and pressure to get vacant land back in to productive use makes it harder to resist economically justified redevelopment plans with less employment space.
The protection of employment land becomes more critical in our large industrial areas such as Manor Royal, Burgess Hill Business Park, Shoreham Port, and so on. In these locations we not only need to protect the individual sites and buildings, but also the critical mass of the whole. Manor Royal works well because of its scale as well as because it is next to the Airport. It it were broken up by housing or retail it would not function so coherently, and would be a less attractive industrial location.
Manor Royal is attractive partly because of the Airport, of course, so it is an irony that the potential expansion of Gatwick threatens the industrial park. Some of the land would disappear into an enlarged airport.
We need a plan to reprovide the important employment locations that would be lost through that. This is not undoable, as there is plenty of land around. However, it does need a plan, and it would be different to the current local area one. Fields would need to become industrial estate, or business park, to allow employment to grow around an expanded Gatwick.
We want the jobs a growing airport brings, so we must plan to provide the space for them.