Protesters cheer loudly as latest expansion plan for Magna Park is refused

Protesters during the No More Magna Park meeting at Hangar 42.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER
Protesters during the No More Magna Park meeting at Hangar 42. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

The latest and largest expansion plan for Magna Park was turned down last night (Wednesday) by Harborough District Council - to loud cheers from more than 150 watching protestors.

Magna Park developers IDI Gazeley had asked for the erection of up to 419,800 square metres of new warehousing to the north of the current distribution hub, fronted by the A5.

Protesters during the Magna Park meeting at Hangar 42.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Protesters during the Magna Park meeting at Hangar 42. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

The scheme was sweetened by the inclusion of a technology institute, an innovation centre, a heritage centre, a country park and a new lorry park.

But in a five-hour meeting, IDI Gazeley failed to persuade the Full Council that the pluses in their plan outweighed the minuses. Councillors rejected the scheme by 12 votes to 10, overturning last November’s Planning Committee decision.

After the vote, Magna Park Is Big Enough protest leader Maggie Pankhurst said she was “absolutely elated” at the “unexpected” result.

In between being hugged by fellow campaigners, she added “at last the council listened to us”.

Protesters during the No More Magna Park meeting at Hangar 42.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Protesters during the No More Magna Park meeting at Hangar 42. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Kerry Munton, a local resident who lives next-door to the proposed Magna Park extension was in tears as she said “I’m ecstatic. These are tears of joy!”

And ward councillor Rosita Page, who had led the call for the Full Council to look again at the scheme after the Planning Committee passed it by one vote, added: “I’m delighted - it shows that residents views have been heard and common sense has prevailed”.

Shell-shocked IDI Gazeley representatives, including Planning Director Gwyn Stubbings, said they had no comment to make on the latest council decision, as they left the meeting.

But the planning saga will continue, if the Magna Park developers decide to appeal against the council’s decision.

Protesters during the Magna Park meeting at Hangar 42.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Protesters during the Magna Park meeting at Hangar 42. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

In the Extraordinary Council Meeting, held at Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground and Aerodrome, more than 20 local speakers had urged the council to turn down the expansion plan.

Protestors said the plan was the wrong scheme in the wrong place and overwhelmingly rejected by people in Lutterworth and the surrounding villages.

MPISBE protestor Sheila Carlton said the extra 5,800 jobs the scheme would bring were not just needed in an area of one per cent unemployment.

They would simply bring in thousands of workers’ cars as well as distribution lorries to an inadequate road network, and make poor air quality in the area even worse, other protestors argued.

Chairman Councillor Grahame Spendlove-Mason chairs the meeting at Hangar 42.
PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Chairman Councillor Grahame Spendlove-Mason chairs the meeting at Hangar 42. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Nicholas Jenkins said the development was a “blot on the skyline” which would have a detrimental effect on local landscape and local community health for ever.

And Dr Susan Tebby argued that heritage on the site - an abandoned medieval village and Bittesby House - would be “hemmed in, isolated, dwarfed and devalued” by Magna Park’s new warehouses.

The District Council has already given the go-ahead to what is effectively a southern expansion of Magna Park from DB Symmetry, with 280,000 square feet of warehousing.

And they have also said ‘yes’ to a huge IDI Gazeley warehouse to the north of the existing Magna Park, which will provide 1,200 jobs.

“Enough is enough” MISBE’s Maggie Pankurst told the meeting.

But speakers for IDI Gazeley stressed that Magna Park provided a fantastic employment facility for Harborough and beyond - and needed to expand to continue to be an asset.

The argued that the effect of expansion on local air quality was minimal, traffic problems could be mitigated and careful landscaping could considerably reduce the impact of the new warehouses.

Professor Edward Sweeney of Aston University said the proposed new logistics institute represented a rare opportunity to create a national centre of excellence; heritage consultant Simon Mortimer said the scheme would protect local heritage which could otherwise be eroded by agricultural use.

Stuart Hetherington of local company Holovis, which employs 110 people, said his firm would look to expand on the new Magna Park extension site.

Chris Hobson, of the East Midlands Chamber of Commerce said the logistics sector had its “best growing year last year” and for the council to turn down the opportunity and investment an expanded Magna Park would bring would be “a shame and a mistake”.

Early in the subsequent council debate, Cllr Sindy Modha proposed rejecting the scheme, saying “the landscape impact is severe and outweighs the economic benefit”. Her proposal was seconded by Cllr Charmaine Wood.

But Cllr Phil King argued that the grounds for refusing the scheme were not strong enough and a Magna Park expansion in fact brought “substantial benefits to the community as well as to the wider district”.

Cllr Richard Hadkiss said any large scheme brought “some negative impacts”, but he did not believe there were sufficient grounds to reject the plan.

Cllr Dr Sarah Hill said the effect on the landscape from a further extended Magna Park would be “severe” , and Cllr Mark Graves agreed, saying in his 11 years on the council “I’ve never seen such an enormous amount of landscape being harmed”.

Cllr Phil Knowles said he also had a real concern about the effect on local air quality.

But Planning Committee chairman Cllr Chris Holyoak warned that the case against the IDI Gazeley plan was not “robust enough”, and Cllr Michael Rickman said the applicants themselves had put forward a “very strong case”.

Cllr Geraldine Robinson said that every day she saw a local community suffering from “the over-provision of warehouses, and the problems it creates”.

In the end, this meeting was hailed as a victory by local campaigners against an expanded Magna Park. But with an appeal possible, the story may not be over yet.