The future is golden - Hear from Golden Valley Development’s Project Lead, Tim Atkins

Can you tell me what the Golden Valley Development is?

The Golden Valley Development (GVD) centres around an ambition to build a new community providing thousands of homes and jobs. It will be focused on innovation and growth of the vitally important UK cyber sector. It will work alongside the existing pedigree and knowledge of GCHQ, business and academia that by that nature fosters a culture that puts innovation at its heart . It will see more than 3,700 low carbon homes and over 12,000 high- value jobs created in the coming years.

What is your role for the Golden Valley Development?

I am the Managing Director for Place and Growth at Cheltenham Borough Council (CBC) and the Senior Officer responsible for driving forward the Golden Valley Development for Cheltenham Borough Council and Tewkesbury Borough Council (TBC) and other key stakeholders including Gloucestershire County Council (GCC) and GFirst-LEP.

What will the Golden Valley Development deliver?

The project will deliver an integrated community and campus for the county. Its first output is Cyber Central, which has at its heart the Cyber Innovation Zone, creating an exciting collaboration between big business, small business, academia and Government. Bringing together the brightest minds in this fast- growing sector will create a pioneering environment not seen before in the UK, enabling us to scale-up and take a key role in the nation’s ambition to be a global leader in cyber tech and be seen as a scientific superpower.

We intend that the Cyber Central Innovation Zone and associated development will be the first deliverable; growing an area where businesses will want to come and build around the range of attractions and accommodation in the heart of this tech- focused campus feeding into a diverse community.

Why is this needed?

If this country is to maintain its position as one of the safest places to do online business, we need the brightest minds in business and academia to help the Government exponentially upscale. Creating a pioneering environment that nurtures a creative and innovative culture requires the right mix of unique components.

Cheltenham has a compelling multi-layered proposition to take this forward and the Golden Valley Development presents the perfect opportunity and location to do just this. There is a cross-section between GCHQ, the businesses in and around the area and the accessibility of the site, which totals over 200-hectares – a similar size to the City of London and the Olympic Park.

This will help the nation to continue to be a global cyber security leader and it will provide a huge boost to Cheltenham’s long-term productivity, its job market and our ability to attract talent. These are not just our words; research recently provided by HATCH Regeneris shows that Gloucestershire and in particular Cheltenham has the greatest concentration of cyber businesses in the UK outside London (up to eleven times the norm) and has seen sustained sector job growth of almost 50% over the last 5 years.

The Golden Valley Development is a Cheltenham Borough Council project, how does this sit with the rest of the Council’s work?

Our corporate priority is striving to make Cheltenham the cyber capital of the UK as part of an integrated network of clusters across the country . The opportunity that arises from this supports the delivery of other key agendas. It underpins the creation of strong communities, providing high-quality homes and long-term hope for jobs, educational learning pathways, tackling poverty and deprivation and the lack of opportunities that arise. The site is adjacent to some of our communities with greater challenges and higher concentrations of deprivation; so the long-term positive impact should not be understated.

Of particular importance is how this project relates to the climate change agenda. Cheltenham Borough Council has declared a climate emergency and set out a road map for change. We will work with the development partner to bring forward low carbon development, exploring the potential to set new standards. We can influence the housing agenda and how we can link it to existing communities, offering affordable homes for a range of people and looking at ways of attracting and encouraging young and talented people to live here.

How will it support Cheltenham and the local economy?

The Golden Valley Development will attract a wide range of employers and become a honeypot for talent. We have an exceptionally strong record of sustained business and job growth in cyber & digital. Our association with GCHQ, its innovation programmes and the wider sector eco system that has built up in and around Cheltenham is particularly important in creating a mature and sustainable environment for growth. We are confident that the construction of this pioneering and creative environment, through the Cyber Central Innovation Zone and the wider campus will enable us to assist the UK in securing and maintaining global leadership in this sector.

We will create new jobs and start-up opportunities, as well as jobs in associated sectors such as retail, leisure and education; which will have a deep and positive impact on the regional economy.

The HATCH Regeneris Report provides some powerful evidence projecting significant investment for the county through the estimated 12,000 new jobs and an additional 3,000-4,000 new homes.

What does this mean for the local community?

It’s about the creation of hope and opportunities for the next generation. We have the potential of creating something truly profound by creating learning pathways to a wide range of local jobs. With this new development will come investment into existing communities. We can begin to look at new ways to work with schools and colleges to unlock long-term opportunities.

We sincerely believe that in 10 years, people will be able to get jobs arising out of Golden Valley Development offering an alternative to university or moving away, creating opportunities for apprenticeships which can result in well-paid and high- value jobs. If you live around Gloucestershire and Cheltenham, this will be something that will influence everyone, providing the route to diverse career paths linked to this industry.

It’s not just about cyber, there is a wide range of associated opportunities too. But the focal point and jewel in the crown is cyber & digital innovation. If we get this first step right, the rest will hopefully fall into place.

How did the Golden Valley Development come about?

My involvement began just after George Osborne visited GCHQ and in November 2015, he announced the Government’s intention to build two cyber innovation centres - one in London and one in Cheltenham.

It was clear that this was important to Cheltenham and Gloucestershire – but at the time we didn’t fully understand the huge potential. The first step was to take the 200-hectare site adjacent to GCHQ out of the green belt as part of the Joint Core Strategy (JCS), which was confirmed in 2017. This was identified as an employment- led development, aimed to enable the development of the cyber sector and deliver a large number of homes as part of a tech focussed campus.

From that point, we began to better understand the ecosystem. There is an untapped economy that is working in and around Cheltenham and we began to work more closely with many of the businesses in the sector, including CyNam, one of the UK’s leading cyber clusters and GCHQ. We began to explore how we could create something special that would support the mission to be the world’s safest place to do online business. We began to co-create a vision for an integrated community based around creativity and innovation which beca me the Golden Valley Development- home of Cyber Central UK. This vision was then set out in more formal planning documentation as part of the Golden Valley Development’s Supplementary Planning Document (SPD) which has assisted in setting high standards for future development.

You have been successful in gaining funding for the Golden Valley Development - can you tell me more about it?

Our first success was for the £22m Growth Deal Fund which we secured through collaborative work with GFirst-LEP. The bid was for a range of transport infrastructure improvements to make the delivery of Cyber Central feasible from an access and transportation perspective. Gloucestershire County Council is now driving forward the delivery of a vast range of infrastructure work streams that will have a significant impact on movement around this part of Cheltenham. Also, this extends to the impact it will have on the links to the A40, the M5, the park and ride and cycle and pedestrian improvements along with connectivity to the railway station.

In June 2019, our bid to become part of the Government’s prestigious Garden Community programme was announced as successful. This opened the doors to support and funding from Homes England, through the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.

In March 2020, just before the first lockdown, as part of the Budget Announcements - Gloucestershire County Council was successful in securing a major funding package of £249M for a full upgrade of the M5 Junction 10, making it an all-way interchange. In the longer term, this has a considerable impact on the Golden Valley Development, improving the junction capacity and making significant reductions on existing network congestion, enabling the accelerated delivery of the project.

Cheltenham Borough Council has put in a significant amount of funding towards the Golden Valley Development and the growth of the cyber and digital community in Cheltenham and wider Gloucestershire. We have been successful in securing funds from the county’s business rates pool to support initiatives that boost growth. This includes the commissioning of the HATCH Regeneris Report and securing specialist advisors to contribute to our wider collaboration including Nick Sturge, Chartered Director and Strategic Adviser (previously Managing Director of Bristol’s Engine Shed) and Reid Derby, Cyber Central Innovation Lead, who have both been invaluable to the development of our wider partnerships spanning across this technical and specialist sector.

What is the view of central Government about the Golden Valley Development? W hy are they supporting it?

One of the key things is that it cuts across a whole host of agendas. It’s not just the Government, but our nation’s ambition. It can play an important role in our Post-Brexit and Covid recovery plans, by supporting the creation of a s cientific s uperpower; a country that attracts and retains talent whilst improving technical skills and long-term resilience.

Cheltenham has one of the country’s largest cyber clusters – CyNam – which plays a leading role in supporting the Department for Digital, Culture, Music and Sport (DCMS) in the development and growth of the UKC3 national cyber clusters. We believe that looking at ways that the local ecosystem and the Golden Valley Development can support the growth and evolution of the UK’s skill and talent base across the country is really important.

There are 20 universities within a 75-minute drive of here and we are close to Bristol, South Wales, Hereford, Worcester, Birmingham and Oxford. This will help to s upport the UK in developing its talent base, strengthening our scientific expertise, delivering high- quality low carbon affordable homes and bringing forward high- value employment and investment opportunities. It will also connect the Development with deprived neigbourhooods, supporting the policy objectives of a number of key government departments such as the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport , the Cabinet Office, Ministry of Housing Communities, Local Government and the Department for International Trade.

We look at the Golden Valley Development as a recovery programme as well and we see it as a 15-minute city. If you draw a 15 min walk / cycle radius around Cheltenham Spa train station, you have easy access to GCHQ, the town centre, Coronation Square and of course the Golden Valley Development. You can also jump on a train and be in Gloucester in 7-minutes.

This connectivity between the station, Golden Valley, the town centre and some of our more deprived neighbourhoods is really important. In terms of supporting the leveling-up agenda – there is a real opportunity as we look to create an integrated smart city with cyber security built into everything from the ground up.

How does the Golden Valley Development fit with the post-Covid economic recovery plan for the local area and the UK?

There is a very strong fit on the basis that it ticks so many of those boxes such as green recovery, job creation and highly sustainable development. We are using public funds to help generate a ripple effect that will draw in significant commercial investment and bring jobs and new homes.

We need to attract world- leading businesses and innovators to help create a range of jobs. Luckily for Cheltenham, many of the international tech giants already have a presence here, so the issue is more about up-scaling. Our aim is to use these opportunities to work with existing communities, schools, colleges and employers to establish pathways for learning, getting jobs and improving the quality of life for people across Gloucestershire, not just those in the immediate vicinity.

How can people get involved with the Golden Valley Development?

They can look on the website, find us on Twitter and LinkedIn or read our quarterly magazine. We’re about to engage with the development partner and one of the first key lines will be how we engage formally with key stakeholders and community groups. We had held back on that due to the pandemic as any form of community engagement has been challenging due to the associated restrictions.

We decided that the best time to start this process was when we had a development partner on board – as we now have something real to engage with people about.

What is next for the Development?

We will announce the development partner this summer. Then, we will enter the process of negotiations to close the contract at the end of the year or start of 2022, whilst commencing community engagement and potentially begin the first steps of the planning process.

Planning Consultation

Public consultation events will soon be held at:

Gloucestershire college cheltenham thumb

Gloucestershire College

Thur 26th Jan (4.30pm–8pm) | Sat 28th Jan (10am–2pm)
Cheltenham Campus
GL51 7SJ

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Cheltenham Pod

Fri 27th Jan (10am-3pm) | Sat 4th Feb (10am-3pm)
Cheltenham High Street
GL50 1DF





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About Golden Valley Development

What is Golden Valley Development?

The Golden Valley Development will create a vibrant pioneering Garden Community integrating hi-tech business, residential and leisure uses. At its heart will be the National Cyber Innovation Centre, the UK home of the cyber, digital and creative sectors arising from Cheltenham’s international reputation for leadership in cyber innovation. With a significant development site adjacent to GCHQ in a highly accessible location with great connectivity, the opportunity exists to create a destination of global significance. It will require the highest standards of environmental sustainability integrating exemplar homes as part of a thriving and inclusive campus and Garden Community, defined by its quality in design, public spaces and approach to connectivity both digitally and physically.

What have you been doing since the project was first announced?

Since March 2020, we have been carrying out a staged procurement exercise to identify a suitable development partner to drive the development forward for us and make the vision a reality. In July 2021, we announced that HBD X Factory, a joint venture between HBD and Factory, had been selected as the preferred development partner, with the news that contracts had been agreed and signed in July 2022.

Why was this developer chosen over the others?

The developer was chosen following the competitive procurement process, where suitably experienced developers and innovation operators were invited to submit proposals in line with the vision for Golden Valley that would deliver the Council’s wider objectives and aspirations. The developer, HBD X Factory, scored the highest in this competition demonstrating they have the experience and ability to deliver the Council’s objectives and aspirations.

What are the main features of their proposal?

The main feature of their proposal will be the creation of an Innovation Centre to capture the creativity of the cyber sector, generating and nurturing pioneering thinking and interactions from the brightest minds across the sector from start-ups to large global corporates and the public sector. The scheme will look to set new standards from both a commercial and residential perspective, but concentrating on creating this inclusive campus environment.

What disruption will there be?

The Golden Valley Development will be delivered in phases over a long period of time. Construction work will be ongoing over an extended period – however, disruption to existing communities will be kept to a minimum. There will be delivery and general construction traffic and people working to deliver the project. This should create employment and business opportunities for the local and wider community. We will work with the contractors building on site to minimise disruption to the lives of the local community.

Will the construction traffic clog up our roads?

We will work with the contractors building on site to minimise disruption to the lives of the local community through the planning and construction phases of the development. The completed West Cheltenham Transport Improvement Scheme improvement will improve the flow of traffic and increase capacity.

What traffic routes will the developer use?

Traffic routes will be considered and determined through the planning process leading up to the start on site.

What will happen next?

We will be working with the developer, HBD X Factory to confirm the details of the first phase of the development.

Do we get a say in the proposal and the design?

Yes. There will be a programme of public engagement events leading up to the submission of the first planning application.

What local employment will there be for us?

The Golden Valley Development is aiming to create up to 12,000 jobs in construction and for companies based in the completed buildings. It is intended that the neighbouring communities, as well as wider Cheltenham and Gloucestershire, will benefit from this job creation.

Is there a need for this kind of employment allocation when there is empty office space in town?

While there is a small amount of vacant space in town, there is nothing of the scale and quality we are proposing for the Golden Valley Development, based on the current demand and the future potential.

Will the new start-ups in town be pushed out as tech giants move into the larger spaces?

If anything, the opposite is more likely. As start-ups grow and need more space, Golden Valley will give them that, as well as innovation and networking opportunities, making Cheltenham the ideal place for start-ups to both emerge and grow.

Won’t it take businesses away from the centre of Cheltenham?

We see the town centre locations such as the new Minster Exchange and Hub8, as attractive alternatives, complementary to Golden Valley, and supporting a network of businesses as they grow. The town centre location also suits freelancers and consultants or larger companies looking for short-term project space. This is part of a growing and thriving ecosystem in and around Cheltenham and Gloucestershire.

Why did the council buy the land?

This is a very important project for Cheltenham, and for Gloucestershire, so the council wants to make sure it is developed with the best interests of the area at its heart. Being a landowner allows the council to have more influence over how the land is developed, with the highest aspirations for the site in mind.

Who did the council buy the land from?

The land was bought from private landowners.

How much did the land cost?

The total cost of the acquisition was £37.5m. The land has already been the subject of transport and ecological studies, which will form part of future planning applications.

Why are you planning to build on greenfield land?

We know this area will be built on so it is our job to make sure we get the best possible outcome from it. The land was removed from the green belt as part of the Joint Core Strategy, which was adopted in 2017, when the area was designated for development. Its location on the outskirts of Cheltenham makes it ideal for Golden Valley, the home of the National Cyber Innovation Centre, which is a hugely important project for the local economy. There is not enough brownfield land available for the scale of housing and employment sites we need over the next 10 to 15 years in Gloucestershire, where less than 2% of the total land area is currently developed.

Is there a conflict of interest with the council being both the landowner and planning authority?

No, it is quite common for local authorities to be both the planning authority and lead developer and there are special processes in place to make sure there is no conflict of interest. Any development is still subject to the planning rules and policies and to approval by the planning committee in the same way as any other application.

How do you know it’s viable?

The whole county is behind this project, we know there’s a thriving cyber sector already in Cheltenham and we know what’s needed to help it grow. The unique combination of research and development alongside businesses will give enterprise the best chances of success. This is a major development and overall the project will cost in the hundreds of millions of pounds, representing a massive investment in Cheltenham. Cheltenham Borough Council has covered the purchase of this land and the majority of the project costs with further contributions from GFirst LEP and Homes England to support the infrastructure improvement work needed in the area – including the upgraded junction onto the M5 which Gloucestershire County Council submitted a bid for in Spring 2019 fully supported by Cheltenham Borough Council, Tewkesbury Borough Council and GFirst LEP. Tewkesbury Borough Council and Gloucestershire County Council also provided much need support for the project delivery. Further long-term development will bring more investment from other areas, including private business. Councillors recognised that this was a huge opportunity and that the biggest risk was not taking a controlling interest in order to ensure we develop the site as originally proposed. The due diligence that was undertaken for the purchase decision was based on commercial rates of interest for capital and on independently assessed land values.

You say you want to create a magnet for young people, what about the young people who are already in the county?

Becoming a magnet county isn’t just about attracting talented young people from further afield. Most of all it’s about growing our own and creating opportunities so they can stay and grow in Gloucestershire if they choose to. We see this development as one that will create new opportunities for young people in Cheltenham, across Gloucestershire, and beyond.

Why only cyber?

Cyber is a particular strength for Cheltenham and an area where we are already an attractive location for the industry. It is a case of building on those existing strengths. Our focus is on creating space that will encourage that, though the exact mix of businesses is hard to predict at this stage. It will almost certainly span beyond just cyber and include a wide range of digital and creative activities. There will be opportunities for other businesses, including food and beverage and leisure outlets, local retail and support services (e.g. legal, finance, etc.) as part of the scheme.

How is a business defined as cyber?

Cyber is a term used to describe all kinds of digital innovation. This includes cyber security, where Cheltenham already has a particular strength, as well as associated technological and creative services.

Why do you think it will make any difference to someone who currently lives near the proposed development?

As the site develops over the coming years it has the potential to provide thousands of jobs, both in the initial construction phases and then in the businesses that will occupy the site. It will create accessible green spaces that the community can use for leisure, as well as supporting wildlife. The development will also significantly increase the availability of affordable housing locally.

Is the borough council making money out of it?

In the long term, we do expect to see a return on our investment, which will go back into providing services locally and improving life in Cheltenham. Our commitment is to ensure that Cheltenham is a place where everyone thrives supported by a thriving economy, a thriving cultural offering and thriving communities, and we want all our communities to benefit and prosper from the investments we make. The council is able to access funds at good rates, which allow us to invest with that social purpose as well as expecting long-term income to reinvest in the town.

Will this expose Cheltenham and its residents to a higher threat of terrorism? What preparations are in place for that?

GCHQ has been in Cheltenham since 2004 and is one of the most high-profile government sites in Britain – as such there are well established security plans in place which draw on local and national resources should they be needed. Local partners, including the police and fire service, work closely with GCHQ and the government to make sure that regular testing of the plans takes place.

Will it affect the value of my house if I live in the area?

It is hard to predict how housing prices will be affected but it’s anticipated that the proximity to desirable employment and leisure spaces will improve demand for local housing.

What about junction 10 of the M5?

The upgrade of the M5 junction 10 was a key part of improving access to this area of Cheltenham. Gloucestershire County Council, with the full support of Cheltenham Borough Council, Tewkesbury Borough Council and GFirst LEP, made a bid to Homes England to fund the upgrade of J10 which was successful in March 2020. The £249m award was used to improve access to and from the motorway northbound and southbound to a new link road into Cheltenham along with a package of other network and transport improvements. This will support growth plans both locally and throughout Gloucestershire, as well as help to solve long-standing traffic and travel issues, helping to keep our county moving.

Where will people park?

There will be parking available on site and a strong focus on promoting and enabling more sustainable and active travel options (walking, cycling and public transport).

How will you reduce flood risk?

The area is not identified as being at risk of flooding in the county council’s Strategic Flood Risk Assessment, however, all necessary surveys will be carried out on the land before any construction begins. We plan to use some of the existing watercourses to enhance the site environment.

What about the natural habitats?

We’re keen to protect our local wildlife and as part of the work already completed, ecological surveys have been undertaken. That means that important natural habitats on site are identified and either protected or provisions made to safely relocate them to alternative sites. We plan to develop the site in accordance with the “Building with Nature” standard and the fact that the site has been awarded Garden Community status means that we will be able to draw on additional resources from government. The extra support will allow us to deliver environmental gains; supporting wildlife and biodiversity.

Will there be affordable housing as part of the development?

Yes, this would be a strategic site in terms of planning policies, which requires a minimum of 35% affordable housing provision.

Will housing be for anyone, or only those involved in the cyber industry?

Housing is high on the agenda for local councils and partners. We’re looking at meeting the genuine local need, as well as anticipating people moving to the area for work.

Will there be roadworks?

Yes, but disruption will be kept to a minimum and residents will be notified in advance.

Is it something to do with the JCS?

Yes, the allocated land is referred to as A7 in the Joint Core Strategy and it is a critical part of delivering the necessary housing and employment land both Cheltenham and Tewkesbury need to support the expected demand in the next 10-15 years.

Is it something to do with Gloucestershire College’s cyber academy?

The Cyber Academy is a very pro-active response by Gloucestershire College to the demand that already exists for cyber skills in the county and will continue to grow in the future. The college is well placed to connect with organisations in the Golden Valley in the future.

Is it something to do with the Local Industrial Strategy for Gloucestershire?

Yes, the project builds on the strength of the cyber sector in Gloucestershire, and it is the sector the government is most interested in supporting in our county.

What is a garden community?

Garden Communities are a government initiative which seeks a “vibrant, mixed-use, communities where people can live, work, and play for generations to come – communities which view themselves as the conservation areas of the future”.

Is there an example of this kind of development succeeding elsewhere in the country?

This is a truly pioneering development, but there are some similar examples in the UK of sites that have successfully incorporated businesses, academia, leisure and housing. For example, Manchester Science Park, Harwell Park and Plexal all have some comparable aspects.

Further information and reports from Cheltenham Borough Council website.

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