The Mean View: Land and skills: business needs more of both

By Ian Mean
Ian Mean 2

Councils should wake up to the need to increase land availability before big businesses go elsewhere.

Business is currently plagued by two big issues. One is recruitment and getting the right people with the right skills.

The other is employment land, or rather the lack of it all over this region.

I am particularly talking about Gloucestershire which I know best, and where the challenge of companies wishing to expand and grow their business has reached crisis point. But this is an issue across the region, if not the whole of the UK.

In my view, the lack of viable employment land with good communication is now leading companies to think the unthinkable.

To move elsewhere taking all the jobs with them.

Scaremongering, you may say. I don’t think so when you listen to some of the key figures in planning and land development I have been talking to about the challenge facing business.

“Certainly, within Gloucestershire, there is a significant lack of employment land”, says Simon Tothill, property and development director for Robert Hitchins.

“Employers will look elsewhere and they will take those jobs elsewhere. They cannot afford to stand still. If you stand still in the market you go backwards.”

He is right. Why don’t our councils, particularly here in Gloucestershire, wake up and smell the coffee. That our economy and productivity will only really grow if companies grow their business.

And investment and expansion is a key route to that growth.

Companies seeking to expand in Gloucestershire are too often banging their heads against a proverbial brick wall in trying to get our myriad of councils – six districts in all – to provide good employment land.

Is this really so difficult?

It would naturally be a lot easier if our governance in Gloucestershire was not hindered by the six councils and a county council often having variable views.

But that is not going to change anytime soon, because it’s politics.

And politics plays a big part in potential employment land in Cheltenham, Tewkesbury and Gloucester where there are conflicts with the surrounding green belt.

That’s very emotive to councillors and communities, of course.

In my view, a lot of this so-called “green belt” is simply low grade agricultural land.

And Simon Prescott, a partner with the Bristol planning firm of Barton Willmore echoes my view.

“I get annoyed when the desire to leave the green belt alone distorts or leads economic strategies”, he tells me.

I ask Simon Tothill what he would do about the green belt if he was in government.

“I would have an immediate review, and I would identify what is effectively strategic green belt that needs to be retained.

“I would also identify areas of land that might come out of that green belt.

“We cannot afford to delay and waste time. There is so much regulation in the planning process and the wheels turn so slowly. I would take some action and quickly.”

Business is a cause for good in our communities. Councils must not ignore it.

Ian Mean is Gloucestershire Director of Business West, and a former regional newspaper editor.

He is an honorary vice-president of Gloucestershire College and has an honorary doctorate of philosophy from the University of Gloucestershire for supporting business in the county.

Ian is also chairman of the Gloucestershire Hospitals Trust Organ Donation Committee and a board member of Gloucestershire’s Local Enterprise Partnership, championing small and medium-sized businesses.