Alconbury Weald could provide 15 years’ building work for 2,000 mainly local people

DEVELOPMENT of Alconbury Weald, the former airfield, could provide a total of �2billion of construction work for between 1,500 and 2,000 people for 15 years – in addition to the 8,000 permanent jobs expected to be created in the 575-hectare site.

And contractors will be expected to use predominantly local labour.

Nigel Hugill, chairman of developers Urban&Civic, made the prediction after a visit by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles to see a new collaboration with Huntingdonshire Regional College to provide construction skills for the development.

Around 20 trainees started their college courses at Alconbury yesterday (Tuesday) in what college principal Susanne Stent told The Hunts Post was HRC’s first joint venture of its type specific to a major project.

And, unlike most construction trainees in the country, those going through HRC’s brand-new Alconbury facility in the heart of the enterprise zone are virtually guaranteed a job as soon as they finish their courses, said Huntingdonshire District Council’s deputy leader, Councillor Nick Guyatt.

Mr Pickles was clearly impressed during his visit to the zone, where he watched preparations for the start of work on the first new construction on the former airfield, Urban&Civic’s green-tech ‘incubator’ building, which should be completed before the end of next year. He was equally impressed that planning consent for it had been granted by HDC in just five weeks – rather than the 13 weeks a normal planning consent would take.

Even though the enterprise zone at Alconbury was approved a year later than the first tranche announced by the coalition government, it has already overtaken the rest – largely because the whole site is not only brownfield but in the same ownership.

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The minister predicted the development would be something of which Cambridgeshire could be proud: a real community, rather than a collection of small-scale developments. U&C are proposing 5,000 new homes in addition to the 8,000 high-quality jobs, three schools and a variety of leisure facilities including hundreds of acres of new woodland.

And Mr Pickles promised to reinforce the need for Treasury and Transport colleagues to expedite the upgrade of the A14 to support England’s fastest-growing county. “We have fortuitously a collection of people in local government who are prepared to get things done very quickly and a bunch of people with a vision,” he added.

“Clearly, the A14 is not going to be possible without government funding, any more than the railway station is. We are looking for a proper partnership.”

And, while the A14 upgrade, which will include tolling, will not happen before the next government spending round starts in 2016, ministers have identified it as the most important road improvement project on the strategic network.

“The Government is working on estimates of �1.1bn. It costs that because it’s the most important strategic road requirement nationally. You can’t have the fastest-growing county in the country without a key piece of infrastructure.”

And the railway work between Huntingdon and Holme, including the new station at Alconbury, was the most important rail project on the East Coast main line, for which funding has already been earmarked, Mr Hugill said.

Because of the need to include Alconbury Weald station in the new Thameslink franchise – at the same time as restoring the fourth track on the main line and introducing sophisticated cab-signalling – Network Rail was working hard on enabling passengers to be using it by 2018 to get to and from London, Kent, Surrey and the Sussex coast on through trains.

Plans to extend guided bus services to the development mean Alconbury could develop as a key public transport hub, taking some of the additional pressure from housing growth off the local road network.

The Alconbury project, if granted planning consent by HDC next year, will be the biggest in the UK during this parliamentary term, with the exception of one in the North-West, Mr Hugill said.