CONTROVERSIAL plans to make greenfield sites available to industry have been defended by Kirklees Council chiefs.
They have warned that proposals to change the way central government funds local councils from business rates make it imperative that the district promote inward investment to the area to create jobs and maintain council services.
At present, local authorities collect business rates on behalf of Whitehall and, after that money is pooled, they receive a proportion back to help pay for council services.
Last year, Kirklees collected £92.2m in business rates and received £123.3m in grant.
Under the government proposals, councils will be allowed to retain business rates raised in their own area – which would mean a £31.1m gap in funding for Kirklees based on the 2009-10 business rate take.
The government said the changes would reverse decades of centralisation and provide an incentive to local authorities to foster economic growth.
The news comes as Kirklees planners look to determine the latest application for housing at Lindley Moor – close to a Data Centre, which already has planning permission, and with plans for future commercial schemes.
And major developments in the so-called Northern Gateway – stretching from Birkby to Ainley Top – are included in proposals already mooted for the future.
All will be considered as the council looks to draw up a planning blueprint, covering new housing and commercial and industrial schemes.
Kirklees council leader Mehboob Khan said the proposals, which went out to consultation this summer, highlighted the need to build up more businesses and generate more jobs at a time when government cuts were hitting public sector employment. And that meant providing sites attractive to business and close to motorway connections.
Kirklees has earmarked land at Ainley Top, Cooper Bridge and Chidswell, near Dewsbury, as major sites for business.
Clr Khan said: “Over the past 10 years, for every seven jobs created in Kirklees, six have been in the public sector and only one in the private sector.
“In the next 10 years, we have to reverse that – and we have to reverse that very quickly because the public sector will see a significant reduction in jobs.”
He said: “Kirklees has fantastic rolling hills and fantastic people, but we don’t have enough flat sites for business and the average skill levels of our workforce are lower than we need.”
Clr Khan said West Yorkshire councils were working together to tackle issues vital to attracting new business – including improving transport connections, making land available and improving broadband connectivity.
Kirklees has identified three main sites for business – five hectares of land at Ainley Top; a 50-hectare site at Cooper Bridge and 35 hectares of land at Chidswell, near Dewsbury.
“These sites are extremely important if we are to support local businesses to grow and if we are to compete for inward investment from new businesses,” said Clr Khan.
“We will be competing with the likes of Manchester and Sheffield, whose councils have big sites on the motorway corridors.
“Huddersfield has a proud history of being at the forefront of technology in engineering and science and we still have the third largest percentage of people working in manufacturing in the country.
“We don’t regard ourselves as part of a conurbation, like the towns around Greater Manchester.
“We have a duty to ensure the town goes from strength to strength in terms of business and employment and does not become a dormitory town for Leeds. We have seen what happens to towns which have become run-down because they don’t have industry and jobs on the doorstep.”
Clr Khan said “hard and difficult” decisions had to be taken, adding: “We need to achieve a consensus on the need for employment land and the location and to bring sites forward for new businesses as quickly as possible.
“In two years time – when the proposed changes to business rates are expected to come into force – we need to make sure we have Kirklees in a fit state that shows we are open for business.
“If we don’t, we will have no new jobs for the next generation of young people in Kirklees.”
Brownfield is land which has been used before and is being redeveloped.
Greenfield is land which has not been developed before.
Green belt is designated land which often separates one town or settlement from the next and should be afforded protection from development pressures.
Urban greenspace is urban open land identified for great value for amenity, character or leisure in areas not covered by green belt and where most types of development are resisted.