Councillor rejects claims that Brexit poses risk to investment in science park

PUBLISHED: 08:14 18 October 2018 | UPDATED: 08:22 18 October 2018

Chesterford Research Park

Chesterford Research Park

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Questions have been raised about how Brexit might affect Uttlesford District Council's (UDC) financial investment in Chesterford Research Park (CRP).

The Science Village at Chesterford Research Park.The Science Village at Chesterford Research Park.

Saffron Walden Labour Party has questioned the “wisdom” of UDC’s £45million investment in the research park and says the council is “neither spreading risk nor considering the effects of Brexit on the biotech and pharmaceutical sectors”.

“There is a very real risk that businesses will quit the CRP, potentially leaving the council with a large hole in its finances and sending its plans for the North Uttlesford Garden Community into chaos,” Daniel Brett, spokesman for the party, said.

“We were told that the average remaining length of tenancy is eight years, but we are concerned that some of the larger tenants approaching the end of their tenancies may plan to quit for Europe or other research clusters.

“There are also specific risks to CRP. It is likely to lose business to nearby Hinxton, where companies are likely to cluster around an expanded Wellcome Genome Campus. Unlike Hinxton, the park remains outside the proposed Oxford-Cambridge technology arc with Uttlesford excluded from potential infrastructural benefits.

Councillor Simon Howell. Picture: UDCCouncillor Simon Howell. Picture: UDC

“Even if the risks were totally mitigated, Uttlesford has placed all its eggs in one basket and opted for a low return asset. The council could have achieved higher returns in other sectors. It continues to ignore the tremendous commercial opportunities offered by Stansted Airport.”

At a full council meeting last week, Lib Dem councillor Alan Dean asked the cabinet member for finance and administration, Councillor Simon Howell, how he is going to handle the “unwelcome news” that Brexit might negatively affected the pharmaceutical industry.

In response, Cllr Howell said the issue had been debated by the scrutiny committee already.

“We deliberately established it so there were five directors, three officers, two non-executive directors,” he said. “There are no councillors on the board of directors for a very good reason because I could anticipate that we would have issues like this arising where people will want to score points on issues that are not directly related to the day-to-day management to our role as shareholders.”

He called the claims from Saffron Walden Labour party “disgraceful”.

“It has been a generation since anyone from that party has sat in this chamber so clearly it’s come from somebody who is unelected and self-appointed,” he said. “But it contains a considerable amount of speculation and opinion which is treated as fact.”

He said it was wrong to be questioning the financial position of any employer in the district.

“The businesses of the estate employ hundreds of people in this district,” he said. “They generate millions of pounds for our local economy and it is quite, quite wrong for us, as councillors, whether we like it or not, to be speculating about the financial position of anybody with any business in this district, particularly if we don’t have any facts to back up these statements.”

Councillor Alan Dean, chair of the scrutiny committee, said it was reasonable to ask questions about risks to the whole science park cluster around Cambridge, including Chesterford Research Park, after Brexit.

“Brexit is a topical matter of public interest both nationally and locally,” Cllr Dean said. “Risks to all businesses need to be addressed.”

But Cllr Howell said the three largest tenants at CRP confirmed that Brexit is not an issue for them.

“It is worth noting that one of the top three tenants has announced a £60m investment programme in the Greater Cambridge area since the referendum,” Cllr Howell said. “I noted another of the top three tenants had confirmed at a recent meeting with a director of the park that Brexit was not relevant to their business.

“The third of the top three tenants doesn’t even mention Brexit in its publicly available list of the risks and uncertainties to its business. Clearly this did not sit with the Labour Party’s pre-agreed narrative, so they chose to ignore it.”

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