What’s ahead for the Golden Valley Development? Reid Derby reveals all

Can you tell me what the Golden Valley Development is?

The Golden Valley Development is the most exciting project that I have worked on to date. We are creating a new campus, a public-private platform for Cheltenham, Gloucestershire and the UK, that will be the country’s most intelligent garden city and community.

It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, giving us the chance to address some of the biggest challenges and opportunities of our age, such as climate change, COVID, hybrid working, emerging technology, the digital skills gap and the wellbeing of our communities.

The project will be a national asset for the UK. We have incredible resources in this region and it is time to bring these all together to create something world-class. It is a real pleasure and privilege to be part of the Golden Valley Development.

How would you describe Cyber Central UK?

When we started this project, it was about Cheltenham and wanting to serve our community. It's about creating an environment for people to flourish, especially our growing tech sectors. We have a very strong base in this region and we want to help grow our existing tech sector in Cheltenham by increasing the amount of innovation that happens. Cyber Central is where much of the innovation will happen on the campus. It will be the engine room for local, regional, and national growth in our sector and more.

This is about bringing together companies and organisations from across the public and private sectors, academia, startups and researchers; people and organisations that wouldn't ordinarily meet, to work together on shared challenges and opportunities and grow the economy in the process.

We will be focusing on challenges such as how to secure our critical national infrastructure as technology continues to evolve. We need to be able to respond to these obstacles and where better to do that than through the Golden Valley Development.

What is your role for the Golden Valley Development and Cyber Central UK?

I am a Strategic Advisor on Innovation and Technology for the project. I provide advice and guidance on cybersecurity and related technologies as a subject matter expert. I also do business development for the project, having a wide network of stakeholders in the cyber tech sector. I develop these and other relationships for the Golden Valley team and I also help to curate and activate the cyber tech ecosystem as we grow the project.

What will the Golden Valley Development deliver?

As well as creating new value that will lead to jobs and economic growth, the Golden Valley Development is about social outcomes. We aspire to help all the citizens of our region to flourish. The fact that it is a campus where people will live, work and hang out is really important but we need to make sure it meets the needs of our local communities as well as those that might wish to relocate to Cheltenham to be part of the Golden Valley Development.

We are looking to do all this in an environmentally sustainable way, whilst looking at how we can integrate both urban and rural environments and use digital technologies to put citizens in control. The Golden Valley Development needs to be fully sustainable because we only have one Earth. The project needs to serve the next generation and generations to come.

Here in Cheltenham, we have an opportunity to create thousands of homes that are among the most sustainable dwellings in the country. We will look at eco-friendly transport and this idea of Cheltenham as a 15-minute city.

Why is the Golden Valley Development needed?

We want to see our communities thrive by providing economic growth for the local area that is inclusive and sustainable. This will hopefully mean more jobs and more affordable homes in the area.

We have a lot of cyber tech companies in the region because of GCHQ’s long history in the area. We believe there is a great opportunity to develop this sector for high growth if we create the right environment. We must also think about the emerging technologies that are being developed, whether that is artificial intelligence, quantum technologies or biotech for example. Ultimately, we want to be ready for what is to come.

How will it support Cheltenham and the local economy?

I expect there will be a variety of staff needed during the construction of the Golden Valley Development site and for the organisations that will occupy the space.

We also want to be looking at the interplay with culture, placemaking and wellbeing as well as mobility and sustainability. There is an opportunity to work with the cultural sector in Cheltenham and the sort of juxtaposition between high technology and the creative arts that we haven’t seen before. We have great experience in Cheltenham as a festival town and by doing something truly distinctive, it will really help benefit the local economy as well as enrich people's lives.

What makes Cheltenham such a hotspot for cyber?

GCHQ came to the region back in the 1950s and that was probably one of the main catalysts for the growth of the cyber tech industry here in Cheltenham. Of course, now it is not just about GCHQ, the Government is one of the biggest investors in cyber in the country but there are so many other organisations that now use cybersecurity.

The Golden Valley Development will be designed for everybody, not just cyber tech companies; for citizens, small companies, large companies and all sectors of the economy including the third sector. As we live in a very high-tech society, we need to understand and integrate these technologies into the fabric of our lives and work in ways to enhance communities.

What do you think the future contains for the UK’s cyber sector?

Our lives are changing all the time. Who would have thought, two years ago, that we would all be using video services to call people around the world and that you would be able to get a job without having to live and work in that place? There has been such a rapid growth of technology such as smart devices, for example smartwatches and automation in the home from smart speakers to intelligent doorbells. We are seeing a sort of digitisation and automation of society and there are great benefits. However, there are also many challenges as we are relying on these devices to carry our data and we need to make sure we protect our citizens’ privacy and security.

There is a huge demand for cyber security products and services to support the growing technology base of the country and overseas. So, I think the critical national infrastructure is going to become even more important to make sure that the UK is the safest place to live and work. We are going to have to focus on how to make these things more resilient.

When we think about cyber security, often we think about the technology, but it is also about the people. That is as, if not more, important than the technology when we start thinking about the need for social science and the other sectors to help with security.

What are the problems currently and how will these be addressed?

We have a challenge finding enough people for the industry and especially encouraging more diversity in the sector. I think part of this is because STEM subjects at school are seen as a geeky thing that is not about people and creativity. Cyber security requires people from all walks of life with a variety of skills, experiences and training. We need to change the narrative.

I think that the Cyber First Girls Competition is an amazing initiative to help girls get into cyber security as a career. I also know that the Cheltenham Science Festival is planning some great things to engage young people in cyber and digital technologies.

How will the Golden Valley Development address the digital skills gap?

I think we talk too narrowly about skills and when we talk about STEM. We automatically think about Maths and Computer Science but actually, we need to broaden this out to include the arts, design and engineering. We need to be able to do the breadth across many disciplines and that is where true education comes.

There have been many creative things happening in our ecosystem through the likes of the Cyber First programme, the Cheltenham Education Partnership, the Cheltenham Science Festival, Gloucestershire College, UWE and the University of Gloucestershire. These organisations offer opportunities for young people such as cyber apprenticeships, work experience or bringing this learning to life.

It’s our duty and privilege to inspire the next generation and fuel their imaginations by connecting technology with people and society. This is about engaging students and young people with organisations such as CyNam, encouraging work experience in the sector and engaging younger demographics to help them understand the opportunities that are available to them on their doorstep. We have some incredible people and organisations here and they are really open to helping others. From the tech perspective, there is a real sense of common purpose and goal right here in Gloucestershire.

For those who have an interest in cyber, how can they get involved?

Events are a great way of finding out what's going on in the area. People can get involved with CyNam, which is the community cluster for cyber tech in Cheltenham and Gloucestershire.

For those interested in Cyber First, ask your teachers if they have heard about it and how they can get involved. There are many resources online if you are interested in finding out more about the industry and sector. If you are just getting involved in things like coding and hackathons, there are many online competitions to join such as capture the flag exercises and some of those are run physically in the region.

How can businesses be a part of the Golden Valley Development?

If you are interested in being an occupier or you have something distinctive that you want to bring, get in touch with us and we can chat.

The best thing to do is email us on our website to register your interest and we will get in touch. You can also sign up for the newsletter or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

What is next for the Development?

We are currently working toward a contract agreement with the preferred bidder, HBD X Factory and once that is complete, then the planning process will begin. In the meantime, we are doing more community engagement and continuing to develop proposition lines for maximising the Council’s objectives in terms of economic growth and social outcomes. There is lots of work happening behind the scenes at the moment, meaning that we have some very exciting times ahead.

Planning Consultation

Public consultation events will soon be held at:

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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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