It is a pleasure to follow Mrs Moon, but also bittersweet, because, like her, I will be talking about the closing of an automotive plant in my constituency. She knows, as I do, what that entails for constituents.
In fact, I had not intended to speak, but this morning I received by letter what is for my constituents a bitter blow regarding the Delphi diesel plant in Sudbury. In June 2017, Delphi Technologies, which is a large multi-billion-dollar American corporation listed on the New York stock exchange, confirmed that its diesel plant in my constituency will be closing with loss of around 500 jobs, phased until 2020. Later that year, I set up the South Suffolk taskforce, including the local authority and the local enterprise partnership, to look at how we could try to encourage a buyer for the site to keep it on an industrial basis so that we could protect those jobs, because the key thing about them is that they are highly skilled and nearly all are held by people who live in the vicinity of the plant, so they are very precious to our local economy.
Interestingly, we then had sessions of the taskforce where representatives of Delphi sat in front of us and told us that it was also their priority to keep the site for industrial use. In fact, in October last year I received a letter from Delphi that said:
“Regarding the future of the site, 1 can confirm our preference for the site to remain an industrial one and we have already invested significant sums to create an industrial assessment report to support this.”
But since then there has been a period with no engagement from the company and almost no communication unless, basically, I kicked off, threatened to talk about it in the Chamber and so on. Eventually, this morning, we received another letter; some of us had been starting to think, “Are their plans still the same?” It says:
“We intend to sell to Charterhouse Property Group…We understand that Charterhouse’s intention is to clear the site following our vacation in order to facilitate the necessary remedial works.”
In short, the site will be bulldozed and every job lost. That is the position as of today. Extraordinarily, the letter goes on to say:
“We note that the draft Local Plan has been published on the Council’s website and is due out for public consultation imminently. Following our initial review there appears to be no provision for the redevelopment of this site. The scale of the site—standing at 22 acres—provides your Authority with a significant opportunity to prioritise brownfield redevelopment as part of the overall spatial strategy avoiding the need for unnecessary development on greenfield land.”
It concludes by saying:
“In parallel to this, we would ask you to engage with”
Charterhouse Property Group
“so that it maximises the prospects of obtaining planning consent for a future use of the site.”
This is a company that is not engaged—that has basically shown a blank face to us in recent months—and then, on concluding that it is going to sell the site for property development, entirely residential, has realised that it needs the support of the stakeholders on my taskforce, most notably the planning committee. I find this quite extraordinary. When I first heard that the company had instructed a commercial agent last October, I “mystery shopped” the estate agent. I simply said to it, “I represent a large number of people with an interest in the site”, which was factually correct, asked if the site was going to be sold for residential development, and was told, “We consider all bids.” At this point, I challenged Delphi on its intentions, and it continued to say that its priority was industrial use.
My position is, first, that our planning authority should stand firm. If a planning application comes in, it should reject it as being out of policy and say that this site should remain for jobs and employment because it is absolutely key to our local economy. I say both to Delphi and to the property development company that were their application to be rejected—which, as we know, happens in the system these days—and they appealed with all their legal power and the rest of it, I would have no hesitation in asking for it to be called in by the Secretary of State, because, I can confirm to the House, we have had interest from companies that want to buy the site for industrial use—for new technology. One was from a company that has strong links to China regarding bringing forward electrical automotive technology. The truth is that companies like that do not have the muscle of the property developers, and in this case Delphi has decided that it wants the biggest bang for its buck.
I recognise that Delphi has offered excellent terms of severance, and the staff who are leaving do so with contracts that many newer employees in companies would envy, if we are honest. But the fact is that we have a Government, as we heard today, who want to see us pushing forward with investment in new technology. When we have an employment site with brilliant staff, which is the asset in this case and the reason why people have been interested in it, we should be looking to maximise the potential for the local economy, rather than selling to the highest bidder and leaving the site vacant for years as we go through the courts with applications for commercial and residential development. I hope we can still have a mixed-use site that maintains employment, and if Delphi wants to do that, I will work with it.