Letter to Leader of MSDC from BHBPA with ref to business growth in Burgess Hill
At our Steering Group meeting last month, the subject of company growth and expansion cropped up yet again, and this letter is a result of feelings expressed at that meeting.
The immediate trigger for this response was the fact that a large German company, Vega Controls, who have been on the Victoria Business Park since 1987, has now decided to relocate to Maresfield, in East Sussex. The reason for their leaving Burgess Hill in the next year is simply that they could not find any suitable premises to relocate to in Burgess Hill. Indeed, at a meeting attended by Sally Blomfield just last year, Kevin Griffiths from Vega told the assembled audience that he had spent three years searching for new premises in Burgess Hill. He was told by the German parent company to ‘buy somewhere’, and virtually given a suitcase of cash to do so. He was unable to find anywhere suitable – all premises were for leasehold only. Vega, based in Schiltach, SW Germany, employs 1400 staff worldwide with a turnover of £350m last year. Vega, an active member of the BHBPA which regularly supports events and functions, will be sorely missed. The 42 current employees will have to commute to Maresfield in a year’s time, and no doubt some will find that a problem. The management of Vega wanted to stay in Burgess Hill but became tired of being told they couldn’t purchase a site.
We could cite at least five more members of the BHBPA who are looking to expand but unable to find suitable premises to purchase. These are vibrant, profitable SMEs which contribute a huge amount to the success of the town. They all want to buy suitable premises in order to continue their expansion. It would be helpful if you could explain why this is happening when so many companies are desperate to invest in Burgess Hill and base their businesses in the town. The town’s prosperity is in large part founded on the strength of the business community here. Outsiders are often amazed at the size, scope and range of businesses – in fact we have some globally important enterprises, such as Ridgeview, Bio-Productions, Edwards, Roche to name but a few.
The power of business in the town is now under real threat. We can’t afford to lose our most successful companies, to relocation elsewhere, because if that happens, a trickle could become a flood. Consequently, over time, the effect on the town would be potentially disastrous. Full employment is a great asset for a town the size of Burgess Hill.
We are aware that new business premises are being developed on land to the west of the town, but needless to say it appears that there is to be nothing available to purchase. The BHBPA understands that a sizeable percentage of the land on the business parks is owned by two main landowners – Hargreaves and MSDC. It doesn’t make economic sense that they are unwilling to offer any of that land for purchase. If businesses leave, the town will become poorer in many ways. A business will not only leave the town but it could take its workforce and their spending power from the local economy.
For many years the Victoria Business Park community has reluctantly tolerated a gradual residential encroachment from Victoria Avenue and along Victoria Road. Now there are very few businesses left at that far end of the road and those left feel isolated. We believe that the remaining commercial land should remain as just that, commercial land with no further residential development. We need businesses to feel valued, with the ability to thrive without the threat of residential conversions. In that same area it might be reasonable to ask why there is still a piece of land vacant to the south of Action Press, where a link road was once due to start. This used to be home to a factory called KDG but this large piece of commercial land has been vacant for more than 20 years now, when it could have could have been made available for business use.
In conclusion, it would be helpful to understand why successful expanding businesses are unable to purchase suitable premises and what the Council can do to improve the situation. This is now desperately urgent. We would like to invite the head of planning to attend our next Steering Group meeting to discuss these issues. The date of the next meeting is 29th Jan 2019.
Peter Liddell, Coordinator, BHBPA
Susan Fleet, Chairperson, BHBPA