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Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group may leave Cambridgeshire as it signs agreement with Cranfield University’s Air Park

Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group looks set to leave Cambridgeshire, after it signed an option agreement for land at Cranfield University’s proposed Air Park development.

It puts the Bedfordshire site in poll position as the future home for the historic business, which announced in May 2019 its intention to leave Cambridge by 2030 to fuel its expansion.

Cambridge Airport (33136714)
Cambridge Airport (33136714)

The 150-year agreement offers Marshall ADG the opportunity to lease land at the Air Park, which is due to be completed by 2024 and will provide a state-of-the-art airport for private jets along with research facilities associated with the university.

Marshall ADG’s interim chief executive, Gary Moynehan, who has taken over recently from Alistair McPhee, said: “Whilst it is important to note that the signing of the option agreement does not represent a final decision to relocate Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group to Cranfield, we are pleased to have reached an agreement which provides us with a credible relocation option.

“We are very excited by Cranfield’s ambitions to create a Global Research Airport and are already collaborating closely with them on a number of R&D projects. As such, the signing of this option agreement represents a further strengthening of a valuable relationship that I am sure will deliver significant benefits to all parties over the years ahead, irrespective of where we ultimately make our new home.

“However, there are still a wide number of factors that we need to take into account before making any definitive decision about the best location or locations for the MADG business when we ultimately relocate by 2030.”

Cranfield was one of three sites identified at that stage. In January, it ruled out a potential site to the south-west of the existing airfield at Duxford because regulations mean it would have been necessary to reclassify the airspace above the buildings it would have used into a no-fly zone, which would have ruled out aerobatic displays critical to the Imperial War Museum.

That leaves RAF Wyton in Cambridgeshire as the other option, but infrastructure challenges there would need to be resolved to accommodate such a large business.

Gary Moynehan has been appointed interim chief executive of Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (42573779)
Gary Moynehan has been appointed interim chief executive of Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group (42573779)

Professor Sir Peter Gregson, vice-chancellor and chief executive of Cranfield University, said: “We are delighted to be progressing our talks with Marshall through the signing of this Option Agreement.

“Located at the heart of the Oxford-Cambridge Arc, Cranfield with its Global Research Airport and MADG would provide a vibrant ecosystem of research, technology demonstration and innovation in aerospace that is unrivalled in the UK.

“We believe the relocation of MADG to Cranfield would further strengthen the partnership between one of the UK’s leading privately-owned aerospace and defence companies and one of the UK’s leading aerospace and defence universities.”

Marshall’s plans will unlock the opportunity to build 12,000 homes and new commercial space on the Cambridge Airport site.

The city’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner said: "Marshall has played a central role in the city's economic and civic life for over a century. We have known for some time that the company have relocation plans and a desire to redevelop the Cambridge Airport site. “Previously I have received assurances that Marshall will retain a presence in the city, and I hope this will remain the case. I am concerned about the impact on existing staff who have highly skilled engineering jobs.

“We also need guarantees around their plans for Cambridge East: that there will be engineering employment alongside genuinely affordable homes built to high environmental standards, with sustainable transport solutions ready to go.”

Cllr Lewis Herbert, the Labour leader of Cambridge City Council, added: “We are very disappointed to hear the announcement today by Marshall of Cambridge that they are one step closer to relocating their aeronautics business to Bedfordshire, and that options to retain those jobs in or near Cambridge and also wider Cambridgeshire are not being actively pursued.

“Marshall of Cambridge is what is says on the tin, a local company which has made an outstanding contribution to our city, particularly its engineering businesses.

An Austrian C130K at Marshall ADG. Picture: Marshall ADG
An Austrian C130K at Marshall ADG. Picture: Marshall ADG

“I have written back to the company asking for a meeting on their plans along with our South Cambridgeshire neighbours, and to share our views. We will be seeking much fuller detail on the future of their aeronautics works and the position of their hugely skilled local workforce, plus detail on the future of their wider engineering and defence businesses also based at their east Cambridge site.

“As a council one of our key objectives is to retain land including at this site for advanced engineering and design businesses and jobs in the next joint Local Plan.

“Future Cambridge needs our current full range of businesses and jobs to continue for us to be a successful and diverse economy. We cannot rely wholly on high tech and biotech, particularly with the challenging economic recovery ahead once we have beaten coronavirus.”

Under the Air Park plans at Cranfield, there will be new aircraft hangars and an associated business terminal, office space, a hotel and upgrade works within the airport. Developed in two separate phases, it could generate 600 new jobs.

The Air Park was granted outline planning permission by Central Bedfordshire Council in April 2018.

In December 2018, Cranfield Airport became the first in the UK to operate a digital air traffic control centre . It was also recently the location for the world’s first hydrogen-powered, commercial-scale aircraft.

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