Local Plan 2040 Draft Plan - Strategy options and draft policies consultation

Ended on the 3rd September 2021
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6.0 Employment

6.1 In order to gain a clear understanding of employment in the borough, the Council undertook a study to look at Bedford's position in the wider area, the pattern of employment in the borough and the need for additional employment land. Further detail is set out in the evidence base document Bedford Employment Land Study (see Table 1).

6.2 The Bedford Employment Land Study shows that the economy of Bedford is diverse and generally vibrant. The borough has a skilled workforce, an above average rate of employment and high proportion of 'top level' occupations. Bedford benefits from good strategic connections to London and nearby economic centres, such as Milton Keynes and Luton, and planned improvements to connect to Cambridge. However, the labour market is very self-contained with about two-thirds of the population working within the borough. At the time of the last census in 2011 the key employment sectors in Bedford were wholesale and retail trade, health / social work and education. Despite having a skilled workforce, a smaller proportion of residents is employed in skilled sectors such as finance and insurance activities, professional, scientific and technical activities, and information and communication, than in nearby areas. This suggests that of the third of the population who work outside the borough, a higher proportion may be from 'top level' occupations.

6.3 The functional economic and market areas of the borough are not the same, with the reach and relationship between Bedford and other local authority areas defined by a complex set of business, market and people dynamics. The commercial market for logistics development is large, stretching from the edge of London to Daventry and from Milton Keynes to Cambridge. However, the reach and influence of the office market is very localised because of the proximity of a number of larger centres. In labour market terms there is a much narrower, local focus, with relationships primarily extending into the neighbouring districts, with the exception of commuting to London.

6.4 The main focus of the study was current 'B' class employment land supply and the need for additional floor space in the future. Although during the course of 2020 the government revised the Use Classes Order, including class B1 (business) with a number of town centre type uses in a new class E, the study continued to include the former class B1 along with the other remaining B classes to enable easier assessment of employment need. Between 2020 and 2040 83% of jobs growth is predicted to be in the non-"B" class uses sector, whereas only 17% of growth is predicted to arise within the "B" use classes which traditionally require site specific allocations to ensure that appropriate sites are provided. The study estimates a requirement for 8,642 additional jobs in the borough between 2020 and 2040.

6.5 The study evaluates existing and allocated employment sites and calculates the amount of employment land needed to meet the "B" use class jobs target taking into account likely future losses. The study includes sensitivity testing of the impact of delivery at different development densities and the impact of a different distribution of employment growth between the "B" use class sectors.

6.6 Taking account of planned population growth to 2040, the land supply requirement for "B" class uses varies between 103 ha and 208 ha depending on the assumptions applied. A requirement of 171 ha is concluded to be the most appropriate as this recognises that there are likely to be few opportunities or demand for high density office development in the borough and that and most B1 development is likely to be within lower density business park sites. Provision towards meeting some of the land supply requirement already existing in the form of allocations carried forward from the Allocations and Designations Local Plan, 2013. These have been re-appraised to check that they are still suitable, available and achievable. Overall available supply currently amounts to 48 ha leaving a requirement for 123 ha to be allocated in the local plan.

6.7 The Council's view is that the expected nature of future demand will require a range of large scale, well located sites that are well connected to transport networks and the strategic road network in particular. These sites will have to be able to provide a landscaped business park environment that is suitable for high technology firms requiring easy access to research and development hubs across the Oxford – Cambridge corridor. They will also include an element of non-B class uses to enable them to satisfy occupiers' daily needs.

6.8 Given Bedford's central location in the corridor and good (and improving) transport links, the Council considers that the local plan should provide three new business park sites, each of about 30 ha. The remaining 63 ha should be allocated in smaller sites which are more likely to be attractive for office and general industry purposes. Allocations should include land for a centrally located educational spin-out centre linked to a science / innovation business park taking advantage of Bedford's enhanced east-west connectivity across the Oxford and Cambridge corridor. The Council's view is that new allocations for large-scale warehousing are not appropriate because of the focus in this local plan on enabling higher skilled job opportunities in the borough. Looking at the broader context, there are already extensive opportunities for new warehousing and distribution facilities in nearby local authority areas (including Central Bedfordshire) which supports this approach.

6.9 As mentioned above potential employment sites are still being assessed. Once a strategy is chosen, appropriate sites for allocation will be identified in the plan for submission.

6.10 Given the revised assessment of the need for employment land it will be necessary to update Policy 69S of Local Plan 2030.

Policy E1S - Amount and distribution of employment development

A minimum of 8,642 net additional jobs will be provided to 2040.

i. The main focus for jobs growth will be in accordance with the plan's development strategy.

ii. Applications for B use class employment on sites that are not allocated will be determined in accordance with Policy 72S of Bedford Local Plan 2030. Proposals for non-B class employment on key employment sites will be determined in accordance with Policy 70 of Bedford Local Plan 2030.

6.11 In September 2020 the government revised the Use Classes Order, creating a new class E (commercial, business and service uses) which combines class B1 (business) with classes A1-A3 (shops, financial and professional services, and restaurants and cafés), part of class D1 (non-residential institutions) and part of class D2 (assembly and leisure). As a result planning permission is no longer required to change from one of these uses to another as they all now fall within the same use class. The remaining B class uses, B2 (general industry) and B8 (storage or distribution) remain unchanged.

6.12 The remaining policies of Local Plan 2030 remain appropriate and do not need replacement. However, many of them make reference to class B. These should now be read as meaning classes B2, B8 and business uses within class E.

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