DEVELOPERS seeking to secure planning permission for a £35 million motorway service station led a tour around the proposed site near junction 12 of the M5.
Chief executives Sarah Dunning of Westmorland Ltd and Mark Gale of Gloucestershire Gateway Trust scheduled the visit at Ongars Farm in Brookthorpe on Thursday, July 29, to coincide with the publication of the planning application on Stroud District Council’s website.
The pair were also keen to alleviate concerns about the impact of the 66-acre development, which will be modeled on Westmorland’s award-winning Tebay services on the M6 in Cumbria.
Last month, more than 1,000 names added to a petition against the application were handed to planners at Ebley Mill, who are expected to first consider the project at development control on August 10.
But the Gloucestershire Gateway Ltd, which is the partnership of Westmorland and the Trust set up to coordinate the project, say the need for a new motorway service area (MSA) at the location is supported by Department for Transport policy, which identifies the site as one of half a dozen core gaps in the UK motorway network.
"There is more than 50 miles from Ross on Wye on the M50 to Michaelwood services, which is one of the largest gaps in the UK network," said Mark Gale.
"It is not our decision but policy states that there is a very clear need for this, especially considering drivers who are forced to re-route onto the M5 via the M50 if the Severn crossings are closed." The issue of its impact on the surrounding landscape was also challenged by Mr Gale and chief architect Gordon Clarke, who pointed to a report by the independent South West Design Review Panel, which concluded that the MSA would only have ‘a slight impact on views’ from the nearby Cotswold Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Robinswood Hill.
This is hoped to be achieved through the construction of buildings that appear to emerge from the landscape with grass-covered roofing.
A minimal lighting scheme will also be installed and green spaces on site will feature highly to blend the development into the landscape.
"Of the 66 acres in total, only 11 will be taken up by the main buildings," added Sarah Dunning.
"We want to create a restful environment that respects the green space and the local wildlife.
"If you look at the hills around this site there are not many residential views that will be affected, so by using some very careful landscaping, the visual impact will be far less than many other developments up and down the M5."
Mr Clarke, whose Stroud-based architects firm specialises in ecological designs, added that the MSA promises to be one of the most exceptional anywhere in the UK.
"It is going to be unique and it is going to be very special," he said.
"I for one would not put my name to this if I was not convinced that the usual fears surrounding big, grey, ugly service stations were totally unfounded in this case." Another cornerstone of the project is its promise to give local job applicants top priority when it comes to filling the 300 new roles it will create, which Mr Gale insists is ‘at the heart of all we are doing.’ Indeed, this commitment is tied into the developer’s Section 106 Agreement with SDC, which also requires them to source products for the on-site café and shop from a host of local producers – within a 30 mile radius – and regional suppliers from across the South West.
To this affect, meetings have been held with a wide spectrum of producers and job training events will be staged across the site’s GL10 postcode area, including Stonehouse.
An obligation to distribute some £10 million to voluntary and community organisations in the target area over the next 20 years is another commitment of the 106 Agreement, as is the active promotion of Gloucestershire tourism on site.
Despite the considerable opposition met by these ambitious plans, Mrs Dunning said she remained sure of the need for a new MSA in Gloucestershire.
"A project of this scale, and anything tied in with the motorway in particular, is always going to attract petitions and outrage," she said.
"What is important here is that we are clear about the facts for the need for this and we are confident that highway policy will determine the planner’s decision." View the full planning application online now at www.stroud.gov.uk/planning and type in reference number S.09/2292/FUL.
Alternatively, visit the official project website at www.gloucestershiregatewayservices.com