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Campaign calls for more employment land

The county is tasked with creating 50,000 extra jobs in the next 14 years but will struggle to do so unless suitable land is released for business development.

The issue was discussed by business leaders at a workshop organised by the Bedfordshire and Luton Economic Development Partnership in November.

Richard Lacy, chief executive of the Chamber, said that the availability of appropriate land, premises of the right quality and the level of investment in these by Bedfordshire’s local authorities were holding the county back. The Chamber would lobby hard to Bedford and Luton Borough Councils on the issue, he added.

The workshop was looking at how the East of England Development Agency’s plan for the region linked to BLEDP’s for the sub-region. Common priorities highlighted at the workshop were innovation, town centre regeneration, business start-ups and tourism and leisure. It also identified the key challenges facing Bedfordshire – inward investment, the retention of businesses within its borders and the low level of esteem and aspiration in the county.

Mr Lacy said: “If we had the investment in land and premises, that would go a long way to solving the problem of inward investment and business retention and growth. If we see these developments going on locally, that will do something for our esteem and aspiration and will feed towards business start-ups and town centre regeneration. In turn, movement on these issues will itself encourage us to develop more land and premises.”

The Chamber’s campaign, which has the backing of Bedfordshire County Council, is in response to figures that show growth in the Bedfordshire and Luton’s economy running at half the pace of neighbouring counties and a third of that of Milton Keynes.

Development of brownfield sites in Dunstable and Biggleswade and business parks at Cranfield and Colworth were under way. Both Luton and Bedford had to follow suit, Mr Lacy said. Brownfield sites in the towns were being earmarked for housing, while new employment land had not been identified.

The business land deficit will be a major focus for the Chamber’s Bedford and District Committee, chaired by Rod Calvert, and the Luton and South Bedfordshire Committee, chaired by Brian MacFarlane.

Mr Lacy said: “It is going to be one of those issues that we as a Chamber will be pursuing because it feeds into broader economic development.”

Former managing director of Lockheed Martin Brian Hibbert and General Motors Europe’s director of purchasing Lawrence James have joined the Chamber board.