Plans to dual a stretch of road in the Cotswolds will have a positive impact on Swindon – especially when it comes to finder a buyer for the Honda manufacturing site.
That's the view of Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership, which has pledged £250,000 for initial work to make the 152-hectare site more attractive to buyers when Honda leaves next year.
This week Highways England unveiled its latest plans to address the 'missing link' on the A417 between Swindon and Gloucester.
When the A419/417 became a dual carriageway in 1999 – creating a strategic link between the M4 and M5 – a three-mile stretch of road at Birdlip, south of Cheltenham, was left as a single carriageway.
Today, the 'missing link' is considered one of the worst pinch-points on the national road network.
This week, the LEP noted "any future occupants of the site will benefit from the planned £450 million Birdlip Bypass along the A417 and the £17.5m upgrade currently being delivered to Junction 15 of the M4."
The LEP this week announced funding for two studies. The first – backed with funding of £170,000 – will be prepared in collaboration with Highways England, and identify how the highway network can be enhanced to enable the site – of which only 50 percent has been developed by Honda – support up to 8,000 jobs, which is twice as many jobs supported by Honda at its peak.
A further £80,000 is being made available to look at the potential energy requirement for the site. Proposals could include the production of energy at the site itself.
SWLEP says the studies will unlock the site's full potential as a prime employment area, but will also help de-risk and fast-track the formal planning application process for future occupiers of the site.
SWLEP CEO Paddy Bradley said: "We are keen to support Honda in its aim to sell the site to enable a new future use as part of its Swindon legacy.
"We can make a tangible contribution to that process by funding two studies, the output of which will be important information for potential buyers of the site. The potential intensification of employment and land use on the site means we need to ensure the risk to transport infrastructure and capacity is mitigated at the earliest opportunity.
"We are also pleased to announce the study into renewable energy options for the site which are commercially viable and support our own ambitions for clean economic growth in line with our emerging Local Industrial Strategy.”
Robert Buckland MP said: “I would like to thank Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership for funding these studies, which have the potential to create up to 8,000 jobs here in Swindon.
“This funding from a government-backed Local Enterprise Partnership will help to ensure that the Honda site here in Swindon is an attractive proposition for potential buyers.“
Councillor David Renard, leader of Swindon Borough Council, said: “I am really pleased the Swindon and Wiltshire LEP is putting forward the funding to carry out these two important pieces of work, which will be invaluable in ensuring the Honda site can fulfil its potential as a strategically important employment area within the Borough.
“Undertaking this work now will support our ambitions for attracting new companies to take Honda’s place and create thousands of new jobs for our local economy,
“As a council we are already spending tens of millions of pounds upgrading the road network around Honda, but it is crucial we understand how any future uses of the South Marston site may affect our existing and future highways infrastructure so we can put appropriately plans in place.”
And the government's business and industry minister, Nadhim Zahawi, said : “The potential creation of up to 8,000 jobs is at the heart of ambitious plans for this site, which is why it is great to see the government-backed Local Enterprise Partnership unveil funding for two valuable studies to help drive forward any redevelopment.
“These studies will provide crucial information around transport links and clean energy supply to the site, paving the way for the site’s expansion and helping uphold the area’s well-deserved reputation for advanced manufacturing.”