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Secretary of state rejects SmithsonHill’s plans for agritech park near Hinxton




A secretary of state has dismissed an appeal from SmithsonHill that sought to overturn the rejection of its plans for an agritech park in South Cambridgeshire.

The company said it was “bitterly disappointed”, but the decision was welcomed by villagers and councillors who had voiced concern about development of the countryside.

Emma Fletcher, MD of SmithsonHill on the land off the A1301, near the Whittlesford MacDonald's, proposed for the agritech park. Picture: Keith Heppell
Emma Fletcher, MD of SmithsonHill on the land off the A1301, near the Whittlesford MacDonald's, proposed for the agritech park. Picture: Keith Heppell

The ARC project would have created a 112,000 square metre agritech park and innovation hub near Hinxton, designed to accelerate the adoption of new technology into agriculture, bolster collaboration and help meet the challenges of food security and sustainability. But amid strong opposition from local residents, South Cambridgeshire district councillors rejected the proposals in 2018 as the site was not allocated for development in the Local Plan.

SmithsonHill’s appeal led to a public inquiry last summer, at which a planning inspector recommended that the councillors’ decision be upheld.

That verdict has now been rubber-stamped by Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, with a report citing the negative impact on the landscape and the loss of farmland as key reasons.

Emma Fletcher, managing director of SmithsonHill, said: “Our vision for ARC is to provide the facilities and ecosystem to help our agriculture industry adapt and scale – because the security of our future food supply is now more important than ever.

“The secretary of state’s ruling is clearly disappointing – but we will continue working with local and national stakeholders and are even more determined to turn this globally significant opportunity into a reality.”

The proposed site of SmithsonHill's agritech park, called ARC. Map: SmithsonHill (33454535)
The proposed site of SmithsonHill's agritech park, called ARC. Map: SmithsonHill (33454535)

But Hinxton Parish Council was delighted. The council told the Cambridge Independent: “It was reassuring to see that the appeal inspector, and the secretary of state, agreed with the views of local residents that the scheme would have a substantial adverse impact on the local landscape and would harm the attractive long distance views that characterise the area.

“The parish council had also made the case that there was nothing to stop this speculative development becoming a standard business park, rather than an agritech park as proposed by the applicants, and this view was also upheld by the secretary of state.

“The village still has the impact of the massive expansion of Wellcome’s Genome Campus to contend with, and remains in discussions with Wellcome about mitigation measures, but had SmithsonHill’s appeal been allowed, the combined impact of both schemes on the local community would have been unimaginable. Hinxton Parish Council would therefore like to thank the many other local parishes and residents that supported its opposition to the scheme.”

The vision for the agritech park
The vision for the agritech park

SmithsonHill could yet appeal to the High Court, but may hope to turn the tide by persuading the district council to include the area, which lies between the A1301 and A11, for development in the next Local Plan.

Nearly 5,000 people would have worked at the site, and SmithsonHill believes by marrying Cambridge’s technology expertise with East Anglia’s farming heritage, it would have driven forward a sector that is growing in importance.

It points out the region is already home to exciting agritech companies, like KisanHub and Herdsy, but lacks a campus to foster the kind of collaboration bearing fruit on Cambridge’s life science parks.

The secretary of state agreed that ARC would have provided “considerable economic benefits” and aided start-up enterprises, and acknowledged that there was merit in providing “agricultural land for field trials”. He determined that it would not, overall, have harmed the green belt, and would have led to minor improvements in biodiversity.

Emma Fletcher, MD of SmithsonHill, at the site. Picture: Keith Heppell
Emma Fletcher, MD of SmithsonHill, at the site. Picture: Keith Heppell

He said the transport infrastructure improvements planned by SmithsonHill would have been of some benefit, despite significant local concern about traffic growth.But his report concluded the park would:

  • “transform the open landscape by closing off distant views” and have an “enduring adverse effect” on the appearance of the area;
  • have a negative impact on heritage sites in the vicinity; and
  • be damaging due to the loss of 33 hectares of quality farmland.

Cllr Dr Tumi Hawkins, South Cambridgeshire District Council’s lead member for planning, said: “We welcome this appeal decision, and have noted the secretary of state’s reasons for dismissing this appeal following our initial decision to refuse the application.

“This is also good news for nearby parish councils and residents who were concerned about the plans. We do have an excellent track record of supporting scientific research in South Cambridgeshire, but there must always be clear and compelling policy reasons to do so.

“This site is one of hundreds of suggestions put forward by landowners for possible inclusion in our next Local Plan, which will set out where new homes and jobs will come forward in South Cambridgeshire and Cambridge City in the decades ahead. However, it is too early to say what role, if any, this site has in that next Local Plan.

“I want to reassure residents that they will have plenty of chances to have their say on any possible future locations for new communities and jobs in the years ahead.”

Read more

A plan for a huge AgriTech park near Hinxton that could have created almost 5,000 new jobs has been refused



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