I am currently monitoring with keen interest plans to develop two of the largest business campus sites in the constituency.
The first site is the former Legal and General headquarters in Kingswood, comprising 43-acres of open Green Belt parkland and listed buildings. In 2017, Legal and General acquired the campus from receivers for £65.25 million, having previously held a twenty-year lease on it, expiring in 2025. However, by then, L&G had already announced its intention to shut down the 380,066 sq. ft. office and relocate the majority of the 1,800 staff formerly working there to other sites by 2018.
Following the asset purchase, L&G has been evaluating future potential uses of the site but has been unable to find a large company interested to take it on due to the fact that the building is not easily adaptable to changing modern business demands and has high rent and running costs.
In view of this L&G, through its subsidiary development company ‘Inspired Villages’, has recently decided to explore planning options to convert the site, which includes a swimming pool, gym, sports field, and tennis courts, into a village containing supported housing for the elderly. Planning details are still being worked up, but are likely to involve a conversion of the main Grade 2 listed building into supported-accommodation and facilities, plus the building of new low-rise buildings on the existing car-park area.
Whilst any extensive residential scheme on the site is likely to face opposition as the campus sits on the Green Belt, it may be that there is an appetite for a carefully designed facility for older people. However, there will be a big question mark over the issue of building any new developments on the Green Belt (car park area) and there will also be questions about potential increased local traffic from service vehicles, residents, staff and visitors.
The second campus site, also situated on the Green Belt, is in Lower Kingswood and houses the international finance firm, Fidelity International (FIL). Fidelity, already the single largest local private employer, has recently decided to close its offices in Hildenborough, Kent, and transfer more staff to Lower Kingswood, meaning that the organisation now intends to make a significant investment in upgrading the Lower Kingswood site to include additional parking and better on-site staff facilities.
Whilst most of this upgrade work will take place within existing listed buildings, which were originally built as a printing works, it may be necessary to include more parking facilities. Whilst FIL will try its best to create a staff transport plan that encourages staggered commuting and the use of public or shared transport solutions, local residents will be concerned about the potential increase in local traffic that the upsizing of this site may cause. Once again, plans are in the early stages and will almost certainly be presented to the public at an exhibition as part of the consultation process in the coming months, prior to the submission of a planning application.
These are two important planning proposals that will need to be treated with sensitivity to avoid any negative impacts on the Green Belt and local traffic conditions. It is a shame that L&Gs site at Kingswood could not have been retained as a large local employment site, but it is important that its future use is sustainable and of public benefit.
It is good to hear that FIL has decided to invest in and expand its own facility at Lower Kingswood. This can only be good for the local economy and I hope that at will be possible to find an optimum planning solution that accommodates this growth within the restrictions of local environmental protection.