New Local Plan: Spatial Options Document 2021
Employment and Jobs
Relevant Plan Objectives: 3, 4, 5, 9, 16
Rochford District is home to a small but productive local economy, characterised by an entrepreneurial culture and strong start-up business survival rates. There is a high proportion of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, from home-based lifestyle businesses to highly-specialised advanced manufacturing firms. A lower-than-average job density indicates that the number of local jobs available to working age residents is relatively low resulting in a strong reliance on out-commuting to destinations such as Chelmsford, Basildon, London and Southend.. The Council's Economic Growth Strategy identifies opportunities to grow the economy by supporting small business productivity and encouraging inward investment, as well as harnessing the growth potential of London Southend Airport.
The new Local Plan needs to ensure that enough employment land is available to accommodate the growth ambitions of businesses of all sizes in the District over the next 20 years, as well as to attract new inward investment. In this way, the right planning policies will help provide more local job opportunities for residents and support greater prosperity for Rochford District.
National planning policy emphasises building a strong, competitive and productive national economy by creating the conditions to allow businesses to invest, expand and adapt. The NPPF champions an approach where areas focus on their innate strengths, support innovation and counter weaknesses, whilst policies and decisions must address the locational requirements of different sectors of the economy. Paragraph 81 requires planning policies to:
- set out a clear economic vision and strategy which positively and proactively encourages sustainable economic growth, having regard to Local Industrial Strategies and other local policies for economic development and regeneration;
- set criteria, or identify strategic sites, for local and inward investment to match the strategy and to meet anticipated needs over the plan period;
- seek to address potential barriers to investment, such as inadequate infrastructure, services or housing, or a poor environment; and
- be flexible enough to accommodate needs not anticipated in the plan, allow for new and flexible working practices (such as live-work accommodation), and to enable a rapid response to changes in economic circumstances.
Paragraph 83 of the NPPF also emphasises the importance of a prosperous rural economy, requiring policies and decisions to accommodate local business needs in a way which is sensitive to the surroundings and prioritises the reuse of existing sites and buildings.
Existing Evidence Base Position
To plan for the spatial requirements of businesses both now and in the future, the Council needs to carefully consider how demand for different types of employment land is projected to change, based on detailed evidence. Two key studies supporting these considerations are summarised below:
- The South Essex Economic Development Needs Assessment 2017 (EDNA) provides a comprehensive, evidenced analysis of the economic and employment land opportunities and challenges for South Essex, including employment land requirements to 2036 based on economic modelling of scenarios including growth of London Southend Airport and the relocation of businesses from Greater London to South Essex. Given recent national and global trends, most notably the COVID-19 pandemic but also the impending construction of capacity-building infrastructure projects (e.g. the Lower Thames Crossing), it is anticipated that the EDNA will be refreshed soon to take into account how demand for different types of business space across South Essex may be changing. Nevertheless, the EDNA is considered to remain reliable for drawing general conclusions on the need for different types of employment space.
- The South Essex Grow-On Space Feasibility Study 2020 assesses the availability and status of 'grow-on space' (i.e. office/industrial units of 150-500m2) across South Essex. Grow-on space is considered a crucial component in growing the local economy, enabling start-up businesses to increase their output, employment and productivity, and consequently commercial provision is closely monitored, to determine whether the market adequately provides this product, or whether public sector intervention (through planning or economic development policy) is required to facilitate small business growth opportunities.
Key findings for the future of employment space in Rochford District are as follows:
- Modelling suggests that over the next 15-20 years, the most likely scenario for employment land demand, given the re-location of industries from London and the growth of London Southend Airport, an additional 7ha of employment land would be required, with the potential to support over 1,200 additional local jobs. This requirement rises to 16ha, when allowing for churn and windfall of existing employment sites (i.e. non-B-class uses having some presence on employment sites).
- Rochford has considerable potential to support business growth and attract inward investment, with strong transport links to London, strategic transport infrastructure at London Southend Airport and the region's ports, a skilled workforce and entrepreneurial culture contributing to this.
- Rochford District has the highest demand/lowest supply of office space across South Essex, with property spending less time on the market than in other areas. Demand for industrial space was similarly high.
- Vacancy rates across both office and industrial space were above average whilst rents were below average, implying overall quality of stock in Rochford District is of secondary/poor quality. In recent years, the supply of vacant industrial and office floorspace has fallen drastically across South Essex, due to rising business occupier demand, but also due to pressure to redevelop employment land for housing.
- Availability of grow-on space within the District is constrained. For workshops in this category, the level of demand is moderate, but quantum of existing stock quite low, and quality of the current supply very low. For offices, demand levels are moderate but again quantum is quite low and quality of available stock very low. If this supply issue is not addressed both in terms of quantity and quality, there is a risk that small business growth will be constrained, and that successful start-ups will relocate elsewhere.
Existing Employment Land Provision
The Core Strategy 2011 set out a number of policies relating to supporting economic growth by allocating employment land, both on existing and new sites. A large number of local jobs are concentred in long-established employment estates such as Purdeys and Brook Road Industrial Estates. The Core Strategy also identified a number of new sites for high-quality employment growth, including the Airport Business Park and Arterial Park proposals, both of which are under construction.
The EDNA places Rochford District's existing and future sites allocated for employment use into a number of clusters around namely London Southend Airport; Purdeys; Great Wakering; Wallasea Island; Southend Arterial Road; and Rayleigh, Hockley & Ashingdon. These total 112ha of employment land. However this does not include all sites currently in employment use within the District, as some sites were de-allocated for employment use but remain significant employment centres (i.e. Star Lane Industrial Estate, Rawreth Lane Industrial Estate and Eldon Way Business Park), whilst employment activities are prevalent on a number of other, informal sites, such as a number of farms and former agricultural sites.
Figure 30: Map of Key Employment Areas in Rochford District
Foundations for Economic Growth
Adoption of the latest digital technologies is vital to ensuring local businesses and residents can access high-speed broadband, mobile and wireless networks, which in turn supports business productivity, economic growth, job creation and social inclusion. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the move to remote and hybrid working models and underlined the importance of robust digital infrastructure. Supporting such infrastructure across Rochford has the potential to help existing and new businesses work more effectively and grow their markets, whilst improved connectivity in remote rural areas creates new possibilities for running businesses and rural diversification. It brings opportunities such as the 'internet of things' (the networking of a wide range of devices, buildings and other items) and 'smart cities' (integrating technology to manage assets and provide data), enhancing possibilities for residents and businesses. It also benefits the local population, who may be able to access a wider range of employment opportunities that require less commuting and pressure on transport systems. Improving remote and home-working capabilities and reducing out-commuting in turn has the potential to benefit local high streets and retail by keeping more spending within the District.
Ultra-fast broadband coverage in Rochford is presently limited, with only 8% of homes and business premises benefiting from fibre to the premises (FTTP) and download speeds of 1Gbit/s, the lowest coverage in South Essex. It is vitally important that the new Local Plan lays the foundations for ultra-fast connectivity across the area if economic growth is to be delivered.
As part of the Association of South Essex Local Authorities (ASELA), the Council has been successful in securing a share of £6.9m central Government funding to deploy a Local Full Fibre Network (LFFN) network to deploy gigabit-capability fibre broadband to the District's main towns and subsequently to villages and rural areas. With advances in mobile digital technology, it is recognised that securing full coverage of 4G and 5G (along with the required infrastructure) will be increasingly important in supporting a full range of future technologies in every part of the District.
Barriers to Economic Growth
Rochford District had a low unemployment rate of 3.6% in 2020, in comparison to the Great Britain average of 4.6%. However, the skills level of the working age population is below the national average, with the proportions of those having attained NVQ3 Level 3 and above and NVQ Level 4 and above being 57.9% and 33.1% respectively. This is in comparison with national averages of 46.1% and 43.1% respectively. Full-time workers in the District earned an average weekly salary of £534.10, considerably below the East of England and Great Britain averages of £574.90 and £586.10 respectively. To help Rochford's population have the opportunity to access high-quality local employment opportunities, and in turn to have a skilled workforce to attract inward investment, it is important to improve skills levels and access to educational opportunities. Such measures could help address known skills shortages in key local sectors, e.g., construction, engineering and advanced manufacturing. This could be achieved indirectly (e.g. supporting high quality broadband infrastructure and transport links to enable residents to learn remotely and access education facilities in neighbouring areas), but also by considering whether sites should be identified for the provision of new further/higher education or training facilities. This is likely to be a longer-term aspiration, and could either be delivered locally or by working in partnership with neighbouring local authorities to support a more strategic education institution.
It is also important to acknowledge the implications of a number of events that are likely to have a constraining impact on how employment needs can be planned for:
- Changes to the Use Classes Order mean that traditional employment uses in B1 (office and light industrial), along with retail uses in classes A1/A2/A3 and community uses in D1/D2, now form a new "Class E", with planning permission not required to move between such uses. This has implications for employment sites, with it being far more difficult to protect sites solely for employment use as buildings may be converted to retail or leisure uses without local authority oversight. This increased flexibility could generate some economic benefits but equally could make it harder to influence the quality and quantity of employment space through planning policies and decisions
- The COVID-19 Pandemic has the potential to impact demand for employment sites in a range of ways, with businesses in some sectors (e.g. hospitality and aviation supply chains) being vulnerable to the economic impact of the virus and restrictions, whilst in other sectors (e.g. logistics) there is potential that additional space will be required as a result. The acceleration of remote working practices as a consequence could reduce requirements for traditional office space, but also has the potential to see increased demand for flexible workspace outside major cities such as London, as businesses seek a professional environment closer to home.
In planning for future employment growth in Rochford District, it should be considered whether existing employment site allocations are sufficient to support the needs of businesses now and in the future, taking into account the need to accommodate whether this provides the right sites both to attract new business occupiers to invest, and to enable local businesses, particularly small enterprises and start-ups, to find the right workspace for them in terms of quality and affordability. Providing the right mix of sites will help support wider business growth and investment, and increase employment opportunities in the District.
OPTIONS - Non-exclusive options for addressing our employment and skills needs through the plan include:
- Meeting future needs by allocating existing and new employment sites for specific employment uses (e.g. offices or light industrial)
- Meeting future needs by allocating existing and new employment sites for more general employment uses allowing employment sites to flexibly accommodate both employment and other uses
- Meeting future needs by prioritising the delivery of existing employment land allocations at Saxon Business Park, Michelin Farm (West of A1245) and Star Lane which may be sufficient to meet macro needs based on current evidence
- Meeting future needs by prioritising the delivery of new employment space alongside any new strategic housing developments (e.g. start-up business centres/co-working spaces or planning for live-work units).
- Meeting future needs by prioritising the expansion of existing employment sites, where adjacent plots can be easily developed to provide more workspace on established sites.
- Meeting future needs by prioritising the regularisation of informal employment sites, such as those shown on Figure 30
- Promoting the intensification of employment uses on existing sites (e.g. encouraging the replacement of open storage yards with business units)
- Requiring new developments of employment space to set aside a certain proportion for‘start-up’ (under or ‘grow-on’ space, to meet identified needs for these types of smaller space
- Re-allocating and promoting further development on former employment sites still in employment use (e.g. Rawreth Industrial Estate, Eldon Way or Star Lane), to provide extra capacity, potentially in place of allocating new land.
- Working with partners to secure the delivery of ultra-fast connectivity across the District, including fibre-to-the-premises and mobile networks
- Working with neighbouring authorities to identify land for higher- or further-education facilities where this would address current and future skills shortages
Q23. With reference to the options listed above, or your own options, how do you feel we can best ensure that we meet our employment and skills needs through the plan? [Please state reasoning]
Q24. With reference to Figure 30, do you consider the current employment site allocations to provide enough space to meet the District’s employment needs through to 2040? Should we seek to formally protect any informal employment sites for commercial uses, including those in the Green Belt? [Please state reasoning]
Q25. With reference to your preferred Strategy Option, are there opportunities for growth to deliver new employment facilities or improvements to existing employment facilities?
Q26. Are there any particular types of employment site or business accommodation that you consider Rochford District is lacking, or would benefit from?
Q27. Are there other measures we can take through the plan to lay the foundations for long-term economic growth, e.g. skills or connectivity?
Future of London Southend Airport
Rochford is home to London Southend Airport, which is a regionally important airport which operates passenger services to destinations primarily focussed in Europe. The Airport also supports an element of freight and cargo movements.
National policy recognises the importance of maintaining a national network of airfields and requires local planning authorities to plan for any large-scale transport facility needs in their areas (including airports). The Aviation Policy Framework (2013) and Beyond the Horizon Report (2018) sets out the Government's ambitions regarding aviation, including:
- To make best use of existing runway capacity
- To ensure the aviation sector makes a significant contribution towards reducing global emissions
- To ensure communities surrounding airports share in the economic benefits and adverse impacts such as noise are mitigated wherever possible
- To limit and where possible reduce the number of people significantly affected by noise
- That Government, local authorities and airports should work together to improve air quality.
It is recognised that a new Government Aviation Strategy is expected in Summer 2021, and future drafts of the new Local Plan will need to reflect its implications for local plan-making.
The Council, jointly with Southend-on-Sea Borough Council, recognised the importance of managing the airport's growth through planning in the preparation of the Southend Airport and Environs Joint Area Action Plan (JAAP), adopted in 2014. The JAAP was a joint development plan document, given that the Airport sits upon the administrative boundary of both Rochford and Southend-on-Sea. The JAAP itself sets out how the airport is expected to grow by 2031, including how development within the curtilage of the Airport itself will be managed, and how an associated business park, to be located to its west, is expected to come forward. The Airport Business Park will accommodate over 100,000m2 of new employment floorspace, alongside supporting uses, and is expected to support around 5,000 additional jobs.
In 2019/20, the Airport served approximately 2.1 million passengers which was an increase of around 43% from 2019. The Airport has long-term plans to increase passenger numbers to 5 million and beyond, which we recognise will need careful management through the planning system. Whilst the Airport's patronage and short-term growth has been deeply affected by economic circumstances both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the loss of Flybe and the withdrawal of Easyjet from its hub base, the Airport remains well-placed to grow in the future, albeit it is recognised that this growth may now take place over a longer period than previously envisaged.
The Airport currently benefits from a planning permission which limits the number of air traffic movements to 53,300 per year with around 37,000 movements taking place in the 2019-20 financial year. Whilst the use of larger aircraft could allow passenger movements to increase to around 6-8m per year, any longer-term growth aspirations beyond 53,300 movements a year would require a new planning framework and agreement. This framework would need to weigh up the various benefits and challenges presented by the Airport's growth, including the strong economic benefits alongside air quality, traffic and noise considerations.
In light of the Airport's growth ambitions, it is important that a proper planning framework is in place to update and/or replace the JAAP as appropriate. The Airport has stated its intention to prepare a masterplan to consider its future ambitions and land requirements. The development of a new planning framework could include preparation of a new JAAP, jointly with Southend-on-Sea Borough Council and in consultation with the Airport, Essex County and other stakeholders.
The Airport's growth to date has helped to deliver over 2,000 jobs alongside new infrastructure including a railway station and bus routes, as well as supporting successful funding bids for capacity improvements to the local road network. Further growth of the Airport would be likely to deliver several thousand more jobs and potentially transformational improvements to the local transport network. The current Surface Access strategy identifies that around 35% of patrons arrive using sustainable transport and it is clear any further growth at the Airport would need to be supported by even more ambitious volumes of sustainable transport usage.
The Airport's growth ambitions are likely to have a number of implications for the District which require careful consideration, including:
- The potential for significant job creation alongside improving the economic attractiveness of business space in the District (particularly spaces that are close to the Airport)
- The potential to make the District more attractive to inward investment that may have wider benefits for existing residents
- The potential to improve the access local residents would have to a wider pool of domestic and overseas destinations by air, for both business and leisure
- The potential impact that increased passenger numbers would have on vehicle traffic movements and congestion in the area and the extent to which this can be mitigated by investment in rail and bus linkages
- The potential need for a greater built footprint for the Airport, for both core operations and ancillary activities (such as car parking), and the impact this would have on land availability and amenity in the area
- The potential impact of increased aircraft movements on both noise and air quality and the extent to which any negative implications can be effectively mitigated
OPTIONS - Planning for the future of London Southend Airport
Given the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the impact of Covid-19 on the aviation industry, it is not currently possible to identify precise land use requirements for the airport's growth. Nevertheless, there are considered to be a number of options available relating to planning for the future of London Southend Airport. These are:
- To work alongside Southend-on-Sea Borough Council to prepare a new joint Area Action Plan, or masterplan, alongside each authority’s respective new Local Plan, that contains a consistent policy approach to managing the Airport’s long-term growth ambitions
- To work alongside Southend-on-Sea Borough Council to ensure that policies contained within both authority’s respective Local Plans maintain a consistent policy approach, as far as is practicable, to managing the Airport’s long-term growth ambitions
- To prepare a new Area Action Plan, or masterplan, to manage the Airport’s long-term growth ambitions, with suitable partner engagement but without the status of a statutory document
- To continue to make decisions based on the existing JAAP for the time being, but to consider developing a new Area Action Plan, or masterplan, after the new Local Plan is adopted or when the need arises
Q28. With reference to the options listed above, or your own options, how do you feel we can best manage the Airport’s adaptations and growth through the planning system? [Please state reasoning]