NANT and BT went head to head on 24th November 2010 at the Woodbridge Society. They had both been invited to put their case before an audience of about 100 members. Both parties were given 20 minutes to explain their case. BT went first and as they took 37 minutes, the NANT presenters did not hurry their slides. This was followed by a 20 minutes question and answer session between the two parties, chaired by Diana Haynes, the Vice Chair of the Woodbridge Society.Afterwards, members of the Society were free to chat to members of both teams. NANT had a good display stand with leaflets and car stickers to take away plus the petition for anyone who had not previously signed.
BT was represented by Graham Murchie, who was accompanied by Lawrence Revill, MD of BT’s planning consultants, David Lock Associates. The first part of their presentation focused on the current landscape of the current BT site at Adastral Park, Martlesham. They showed aerial shots of the site which emphasised the extent of the mineral extraction currently underway and to come. They also stated that this was a flat area with few attractive features and that the nearest part of the Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty already contained some industrial buildings. (NANT’s response to this is that BT were defending their new town proposals on the basis of the current state of the land, rather than what it could become once the mineral extraction had finished. The real choices were agricultural green fields, allowing it to become scarce sandling heath or concreting it over for ever. The buildings near the boundary of the AONB have been there for years – it doesn’t really affect the fact that the whole area will be dominated by a large new town.)
BT then outlined their plans for the proposed new town and their jobs estimates. BT plans to increase its own jobs on the site by organic growth and strategic relocations, expecting to deliver 650 jobs over 15 years. Innovation Martlesham can be expected to deliver 4 corporate representative operations, which would deliver 300 jobs. Start-up companies and other SMEs could deliver another 260 jobs. 220 jobs would be teachers working in new primary and secondary schools. Construction would cater for 270 jobs. The remaining 170 jobs would be working in a new hotel (120), retail (20) and health centre (30 jobs). This total of 1870 includes some existing jobs, arriving at a balance of 1770 new jobs covering a range of employment sectors. (As far as we know, this was the first time BT’s jobs forecast had been made public, showing how few high-tech jobs were actually being predicted. Many of the new jobs were not dependent on the Innovation Park as they would arise wherever the homes were built.)
Prue Denton started off NANT’s presentation by explaining how BT had put Suffolk Coastal District Council under huge pressure to change its original plans for 1050 houses in the area neighbouring Ipswich to 2000. She quoted from BT’s documents which threatened that, without the development of 2000 houses, BT would cut back on maintenance of its buildings and progressively move out. Now that the regional housing target of 1050 had been lifted, there was nothing to stop the Council from adopting its original preferred option of a distributed housing policy to address the shortage of affordable homes in rural areas.
Ian Kay then took over and pointed out that the people who lived in the new housing were unlikely to be the same group who worked on that site. This would lead to increased peak hour traffic in both directions. He also highlighted the negative visual impact that the new town would have, with 4,5 and 6 story blocks of flats and the environmental impact of an additional 4800 population overloading the roads and putting pressure on the many neighbouring protected wildlife sites. BT’s proposals include introducing traffic lights to four junctions, some of them expanded to seven-lanes, on the A12 between the Seven Hills roundabout up to the Tesco roundabout.
Prue then wrapped up NANT’s case by showing how urban development had already spread eastwards from Ipswich and expressing NANT’s view that the new infrastructure for the new town would make further development towards Woodbridge more viable. She pointed out that Suffolk Coastal’s key industries, such as Sizewell C, Felixstowe Port, agriculture, leisure and tourism and the increasing need for elder care across the district would not be well served by concentrating all the homes in a new town. She quoted from a letter by Lawrence Revill to the Council indicating that delivery of new jobs in this area was uncertain and that housing east of Ipswich already exceeded local employment opportunities. BT’s presence at Adastral Park could not be guaranteed for ever and they would make future commercial decisions in the interests of its shareholders, not to satisfy any perceived loyalties to Suffolk. (BT did not deny this.)
The presentations were followed by a short question and answer session during which BT accepted that their public consultation had not explicitly asked if people wanted an extra 2000 houses on that site because they knew that the answer would have been ‘No!’ Lawrence Revill asked NANT where else they would build the new town, to which NANT replied that there was no need for a new town. BT could refurbish their buildings and create new jobs without needing 2000 houses on the site and this would leave the Council free adopt its original preferred option and distribute new homes across the district where they were most needed.