Figures raise questions about South West Quadrant
WEST Dorset District Council has so far lost nearly £13,000 on the development of the Gore Cross Business Park in Bridport.
Two plots, however, still have to be sold and the council could end up making a six-figure profit.
Details of the council’s financial involvement may fuel the debate about the proposed redevelopment of St Michael’s trading estate and the South West Quadrant in Bridport, where West Dorset District Council owns land. How profitable – or not – could the regeneration of that land be? How long might it take?
And is it sensible to risk destroying the small businesses on the South West Quadrant that might grow into the bigger firms now at Gore Cross?
Businessman Laurence Wettern, now based on Gore Cross, says: “You do still want the small units that people can get going with.”
Gore Cross Business Park was born out of a grand project for Bridport town centre that failed. The idea about two decades ago was that Bridport-Gundry (as it then was; it’s now AmSafe) should move up from The Court in West Street onto land at Gore Cross owned by Norman’s (of slaughterhouse fame). The Court would then become a supermarket. It never happened. Instead, about 15 years ago, the idea was hatched that Norman’s would sell their land to public sector bodies better able to get necessary permissions, and bear the costs of creating a new industrial estate.
One aim was to give local firms chance to expand. Another was to attract new businesses to the area.
So, Gore Cross Business Park began as a joint public sector venture between West Dorset District Council (WDDC), Dorset County Council (DCC) and the Rural Development Commission (RDC: later absorbed into the South West Regional Development Agency – SWRDA).
These three bodies agreed that Gore Cross – which was then just a green field, popular with walkers to and from The Pymore Inn – would be a more attractive place for businesses to move to, if it came with some basic facilities already in place, like a road around the site and utilities. WDDC, DCC and the RDC also planned to make some return on their investment by selling serviced plots.
Costs so far incurred by West Dorset District Council
Site Acquisition £768,550
Construction Costs £464,636
Other Costs £102,326 (legal fees, service provision, landscaping, supervisory fees, consultants, Marketing)
Design Costs £71,059
Service Road £232,641
Partner Contributions (£450,000) (£250k SWRDA & £200k DCC)
Total Costs £1,189,212
Offsetting the total costs against the net proceeds (£1,176,516) gives a current net loss of £12,695.
However, a WDDC spokeswoman points out: “There are 2 more plots to sell, which have an asset valuation of £195,000. Also, we still have to deal with works to the Estate Road to bring it up to an adoptable standard – not yet costed.”
Who is on the Gore Cross Business Park?
The site is much busier than it looks from the A3066.
Current occupants include: Haydon Veterinary Group, Delta Heating & Plumbing Supplies, AJ Electrical Distribution, Huck Nets (UK), Samways Fish Merchants & International Transporters, Howdens Joinery, Sicor International, Ackerman Engineering, Brydian Cards, Castle Building and Construction, Deben Netting Division, O’Brien Roofing & Leadwork, AAV Plastics Design, MJP Electronics, DGT Precision Engineering, AP Chant Plumbing & Heating, Curtiss Wright Flow Control Company (Solent & Pratt).
A new headquarters is being built for Top Gear, who are moving from the South West Quadrant.
Why Gore Cross?
AAV Plastics Design (AAVPD) is run by Laurence Wettern who started the business nearly 20 years ago. His first success was making wine-breathers to help preserve bottled wine. Nowadays he employs 14 people making an ingenious variety of moulded plastic products.
Mr Wettern was based on the Dreadnought Trading Estate in Bridport, but he outgrew his rented premises there, and bought a plot at Gore Cross in the late 1990s. Moving offered him the security of ownership, and it gave AAVPD room to expand, as it did 4 years ago. Mr Wettern did consider moving instead to Horn Park between Beaminster and Broadwindsor, but he decided that was too difficult for people to get to. Several other firms now on Gore Cross have also moved from locations nearby (Samways, for example, were at West Bay; Solent & Pratt were down the road)
Mr Wettern said: “Where else were people going to go? It is quite difficult. Finding somewhere that is sensible for people to get to is not the same as finding somewhere that you can get planning permission on.”
Historically, West Dorset has lost some enterprises to other areas: for example, Numatic from Beaminster to Chard, Denhay Farms’ bacon packaging unit from the Marshwood Vale to Honiton, and Kingcombe Aquacare from Hooke to Crewkerne.
Mr Wettern thought the loss of £13,000 sustained by the district council so far was “not too bad” given the part that Gore Cross had played in keeping many jobs in the Bridport area, as well as creating opportunities for new ones.
For WDDC, business support team leader Trevor Hedger said: “The Gore Cross development is a valuable resource because it supports the local economy by providing lots of space for local firms to grow and expand, and that is something the council has clearly been prepared to invest in.”
Further analysis in relation to the South West Quadrant
There are various ways of interpreting the situation at Gore Cross with regards to St Michael’s Trading Estate and the South West Quadrant.
Readers may have their own views and it would be good to hear them.
The loss made so far at Gore Cross – after 15 years – suggests that an organisation like WDDC cannot always expect to get money back quickly from commercial property development. The council does own SWQ land, but its motives in initially promoting SWQ planning applications should perhaps be judged in the light of potentially slower returns than most people might expect.
Possible commercial concerns show by contrast the importance for the SWQ project of getting permission to build 175 new homes. Residential development is safer and much more lucrative.
Consultants have suggested that SWQ regeneration will be worth £5 million a year to Bridport if completed. Critics doubt that. For a start, they say people must also take into account what might be lost, now and in the future. St Michael’s trading estate may look shabby but it’s a place where businesses can start to grow and thrive (as Top Gear has).
Let’s give Mr Wettern the final word to be going on with: “You do still want the small units that people can get going with. I was paying £2 per square foot to begin with – it was grotty but that rent was a function of the grottiness of the place and… well, I can’t say that I liked the grottiness but you don’t mind it so much when you’re starting out.
“You don’t want to end up destroying all those sheddy types of place and you’ve got to be quite careful about not doing that – otherwise you can stop people creating those businesses that end up coming up here [to Gore Cross].”