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Tim Atkins reflects on key highlights of 2021

Looking back on 2021, what have been the key highlights for the Golden Valley Development?

The first highlight was coming out of the lockdown earlier this year. In March 2020, as we went into the first lockdown, we were at the point of launching our search for a development partner and due to the changing circumstances, there was uncertainty about what would happen. Instead, we adapted our plans and launched ‘virtually’ drawing on a promotional video and other digital material via social media channels. At the time this was totally untested in the development market.

This proved to be a great success; where other schemes had been put on hold, we were getting a lot of positive attention for driving this exciting project forward at a very difficult economic time. Throughout this whole year, we have worked hard and got to the point where we have a development partner on board as well as strengthening our commercial offer to the market. This has been helped with the ‘innovation campus’ theme which is based on a vision that had homes and over 2 million square feet of tech led-employment at its core.

The key to this is the concept of a pioneering campus focused around bringing great minds together to collaborate and innovate. Through the Golden Valley Development, we will create the ideal location to grow the defence of our critical national infrastructure. It will also be the home of innovation and creativity, helping us to find solutions and create products that will allow us to retain our position as global leaders in the cyber and emerging tech sector.

What have been the biggest achievements and how has this benefitted Gloucestershire and the wider area?

Over the last year, the Golden Valley Development has been recognised as an exciting and innovative project across the region and beyond. We have been working with the Western Gateway, as it is now clear that the project will be a major player in South West England. However, it is not just about the Golden Valley Development and Cheltenham; it is much bigger than that.

That recognition took a huge step forward this month with the launch of the National Cyber Strategy, with the Rt Hon Stephen Barclay MP (the Cabinet Office Minister) setting out how the UK will be the world’s safest place to live and do online business. Gloucestershire is the location to drive a major part of this agenda forward, being home to the transformational National Cyber Security Centre. The Government’s increasing support for the Golden Valley Development project is key to the mission of delivering cyber and emerging tech innovation. Our work is at the heart of this critically important national strategy.

We can also look at the work that CyNam, Cheltenham’s cyber cluster, has been involved in this year. They are the physical representation of what is happening here, with over 1,000 members from across the ecosystem and every event they host becomes bigger and more exciting, drawing in hundreds of people watching worldwide. They have been working with the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and other Government departments, as well as collaborating with other regions through the national Cyber Cluster Collaboration (UKC3).

People are becoming more aware of the ecosystem here, including what businesses are doing and how that can benefit everyone. Earlier this month, around 15 Cheltenham cyber start-ups received funding to attend Slush 2021 in Helsinki. At the event, there was great excitement about what was going on in Cheltenham and the region as a whole. Over recent years, we have been gaining visibility with the Golden Valley Development being recognised nationally and internationally and that is a real achievement for Gloucestershire.

Have the effects of COVID-19 created more obstacles or opportunities for the project?

Despite the backdrop of something that has brought real challenges to many of our lives, we have been able to create opportunities and strengthen our approach. Our search for a Development Partner took place virtually which helped us to reduce the project’s carbon footprint and expenses. It was also far more efficient from a productivity point of view and we managed to retain more people because of that. The idea that multi-disciplinary teams need to travel across the UK to have a 2-hour meeting really does not make much sense anymore.

There has also been more awareness of the online threats facing our country and our mission is to bring everything together with the right people and education to combat this. Ultimately, COVID has made cyber a higher priority as more people become reliant on these forms of communication and infrastructure in their day-to-day lives.

The pandemic has had a devastating impact on many people across the world, however, I believe we have managed to turn it into an opportunity to create a greener, more sustainable development that sets a new approach to promoting collaborative and pioneering work.

This year, the project has emphasised the importance of including the local community. What has the Development been doing to make sure this becomes a reality?

Community engagement has been a particularly challenging issue for us because in the pre-pandemic times you could reach out and speak to people in person, work with community engagement specialists to meet with a diverse range of groups and make presentations to capture the feelings and views. We want to ensure that we have as many channels open as possible so that people feel involved and heard, but this is not an easy task in such testing times.

It was particularly difficult to reach people who do not have access to digital media. We created the GV Magazine for this reason, as a way to inform the community of what was going on and to begin that public engagement. We received positive feedback about the quality of what has been published and we are trying to build upon that as we head into the next 12 months.

What growth have we seen in Gloucestershire’s cyber sector in 2021?

Though we do not currently have figures for 2021, when we conducted the Hatch Regeneris report last year, the growth rate in Cheltenham and Gloucestershire was well above the national average and this has likely continued this year. There is a real belief and acceptance that Cheltenham and Gloucestershire are leaders in this sector and that it is the place to be. These are truly powerful statistics, showing Cheltenham as having the greatest concentration of cyber & digital businesses in the UK outside of London. With the launch of the National Cyber Strategy, as part of the wider levelling-up agenda, Cheltenham’s importance is going to become even stronger.

Hub8, including Bruce Gregory and his team, have grown their initiative to get many organisations to come together and do great things. The whole approach is changing with colleagues at GCHQ and NCSC becoming more confident about collaborating and becoming more visible. That was part of the bid for Hub8 Gloucestershire College and the upcoming Minster Exchange, which will help this sector to flourish further, drawing in further funding to Cheltenham. The college is adjacent to some of the most deprived wards in Gloucestershire and with tech giants moving to the area, it will provide educational opportunities for apprenticeships and work placement schemes. I think there is something very inspiring about that.

For you, a personal highlight must have been achieving second place in the South West Business Insider’s ‘Property Powerlist’. How does it feel to receive this sort of recognition for the project?

I was a bit surprised as someone sent it to me and said, “Have you seen this? You are number two!” It is great recognition of the Golden Valley Development project and our fast-growing momentum. Sometimes as the figurehead of a project, you get the recognition; but for me it is more about the wider team who are working on this and the great tenacity everyone has. We have managed to assemble a strong team who are experts in their fields, such as Amanda Keane, David Oakhill, Paul Carten, Paul Minnis, Nick Sturge and Reid Derby to name just a few.

As a relatively small council – Cheltenham’s administration has shown great leadership in driving this project forward, purchasing the land, financing the programme and maintaining the vision of making Cheltenham the Cyber Capital of the UK. Particularly as the impact stretches much wider. There are a whole host of other partners and stakeholders who have been working hard to drive this forward, in particular Alex Chalk our local MP, the County Council, Gloucestershire Local Enterprise Partnership and Tewkesbury Borough Council to name just a few. It is a real team effort.

There is something about the Golden Valley Development that gets people's imagination going. I cannot underestimate it; if we get the first elements right, I am confident that great things will happen and that it will be globally significant.

What will be the Golden Valley Development’s key milestone for 2022?

The key milestone will be the submission of the planning application as it will set the tone and the timeline for the project, including the plans for the innovation centre. Second to that, we will be closing out the contracts on the development partnership with HBD X Factory. Once this has been completed, people will begin to visualise our ambitious plans to make Cheltenham and Gloucestershire the UK’s cyber capital.



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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 Cyber Central: the UK home of 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 is the difference between the Golden Valley and Cyber Central?

Cyber Central will be the commercial and innovative heart of the wider Golden Valley Development and will be home of cyber, digital and the creative sectors. It will be more campus than business park and this innovative heart will be developed along with new private and affordable homes creating a vibrant community supported by shops, restaurants, leisure and open recreational space. It will greatly enhance Cheltenham’s appeal as a destination for living and working.

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.

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 preferred 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 the Cyber Central Innovation Zone to capture 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 minimize 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 minimize disruption to the lives of the local community through the planning and construction phases of the development. The current WCTIS improvement works currently being undertaken to the surrounding network 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 we see?

Following the selection of the preferred developer, we will be working with them to confirm the details of the first phase of the development. This will lead to first planning application, which will hopefully be submitted in 2022.

When will the building work start?

Building work will start when planning permission has been granted and contractors are appointed. We are aiming for building work to start in 2023.

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 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 Xchange 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 eco-system in and round 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 (JCS), 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 Cyber Central UK, 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 a planned upgraded junction onto the M5 which Gloucestershire County Council submitted a bid for in Spring 2019 fully supported by CBC, TBC and GFirst LEP. Tewkesbury Borough Council and Gloucestershire County Council have 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 further development will 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?

Upgrading M5 junction 10 is a key part of improving access to this area of Cheltenham. GCC, with the full support of CBC, TBC and GFirst LEP, made a bid to Homes England to fund the upgrade of J10 which was successful in March 2020. The £249m award will be 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 something that 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 JCS 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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