McArdles demands Green Belt to ease 54% increase in profits!

Colnbrook based construction company McArdles has launched a cynical bid to have Green Belt land on its site off the Colnbrook By-Pass converted to commercial use, to save it forking out £60K an acre for storage sites locally.  That despite declaring a 54% hike in profits in its last financial statements!

McArdle's Green Belt squat in Colnbrook

McArdle's Green Belt squat in Colnbrook

McArdle have demonstrated scant regard for residents over the past few years.  They have failed to respond to reasonable requests to comply with planning conditions relating to excessive noise, volume of traffic and speeding.  In the letter accompanying their application, they have also denied meeting and corresponding with residents over these same issues since 2009.

The inexplicable original planning permission for a new head office and access road on Green Belt is now generally considered by residents to have been little more than a “Trojan Horse” for their real intentions: a large scale maintenance depot to house a growing fleet of 60+ HGVs, plant and machinery, with continuous operations throughout an extended working day, often 7 days a week.

The growth of a firm should not entitle it to rights over Green Belt land, particularly when it contributes so little to the local economy and employs few local residents.  Hopefully it will  not be lost on the Planning Committee that McArdle are already expecting to be awarded contracts for the Goodman SIFE project opposite.

McArdle have made veiled threats in their application that approval of this application will allow them to continue as a “significant and successful local employer”.  But they have openly stated that this Green Belt grab is in response to the high cost of storage space elsewhere in the area, baulking at the £60K per acre cost despite a 54% increase in profit and a healthy 12% profit margin.

Given the concerns expressed by Highways in 2005 regarding additional traffic onto the Colnbrook By-Pass at the time of the original application, major expansion of the site allowed through “technicalities” in the original permission – which effectively make obsolete the 6 lorry limit – need to be taken into account.  The synchronised daily disembarkation onto the Colnbrook By-Pass, at 7am each morning since late 2010, of the entire McArdle HGV fleet causes the by-pass to come to a standstill.  Objectors believe Highways will wish to reconsider the impact of this and halt the scheme even if the Planning Committee don’t.  The application legitimises a ten-fold increase in the allowed HGVs since opening, a doubling of the size of the yard, and the loss of Green Belt.

The scheme regularises the change of use to full-scale commercial operation in a residential area, in the Green Belt.  Given the imminent debate on SIFE, the Committee’s decision will have important ramifications for the SIFE verdict in August.

McArdle’s claims Vs. the Reality

What they say And the reality
“When the Planning Enforcement team came to see us [in October 2010] the issues noted were news to us” The lack of landscaping was raised in November 2009 (other issues, such as speeding, had been raised nearly two years’ earlier) but McArdle refused to do anything that would cost money.
“It is a key priority to us to act as a good corporate citizen” When the Council’s officers visited, McArdle’s Finance Director was accompanied by 2 lawyers. Condition 9 limits the site to 6 lorry spaces and 50 car parking spaces but McArdle’s lawyers successfully argued that Condition 9 doesn’t legally stop an HGV being parked in a car space.McArdle have acknowledged in excess of 60 HGVs are currently using the site.The reconfiguration of the car parking area into “storage, parking and circulation space for miscellaneous plant” will regularise this 1000% increase.
“Our business has grown considerably in size since it moved to Colnbrook in 2005.  The macro economic climate remains very challenging.  Rents for storage space elsewhere were in the region of £60,000 per year per acre – a prohibitive cost to our business” According to the most recent financial statements filed with Companies House in September 2010:

  • The Directors are pleased to report a major improvement in trading … with turnover growing to nearly £22million, a 54% increase.

Directors’ pay in the same period increased by £50K.

“Storage in the yard has become inadequate and it has become necessary to use the periphery of the site for plant, machinery and stock” Based on complaints since 2009 this is patently untrue.Images from Google Earth show the periphery of the site has been in much the same condition for the last few years.
“We purchased a speed camera and barrier for the entrance to the site at £25,000 … All vehicles are monitored and drivers are reprimanded driving in excess of 10 miles an hour” McArdle have acknowledged that the camera does not have line of sight to the bypass but from only the bend in the road close to their main entrance, where traffic naturally slows anyway.Additionally, the camera was out of action for most of 2009 and the first half of 2010.
“Not all traffic that enters McArdle Way is bound for our site” As has already been reported to Highways, Planning, and the Parish Council:

  • By keeping the main gates open outside of the approved times specified in Condition 11 of the permission (7 till 7 Monday to Saturday), McArdle are encouraging entry to/from the by-pass via the unlocked gate on Mill Street.  This also encourages HGVs to breach the trial Weight Restriction on the Colnbrook High Street.
  • While, traffic on this route is predominantly for McArdle, it is down to McArdle alone to police that.
  • Collapsible bollards onto Mill Street were part of the original drawings but never implemented; Highways insisted that Mill Street was unsuitable and should not be used for direct access from the bypass.
“… out of hours use of the site has vastly reduced” There has been daily access into the site from 5:30am, in breach of Condition 11, which still continues.  Video evidence and logs of this have previously been submitted to the Council.
“We have not been made aware by you or direct by local residents that the lack of a landscape scheme has been a problem but nonetheless in the light of our intention to act responsibly we wish to resolve the matter” McArdle’s direct correspondence with Mill Street residents since November 2009 is attached.Additionally, the residents of 2 New Cottages spent over £3,000 on screening and hedge planting to reduce the noise and dust on McArdle Way, which McArdle are aware has not been refunded.
“We do our upmost to minimize the negative impact our operations may have … (and where possible we acted as quickly as possible)”
  • Floodlighting shining into homes in breach of Condition 12 took months to be removed and new floodlighting was installed without Planning Permission or discussion with residents.
  • A half-hearted attempt was made to repair footpaths and fencing along McArdle Way (Condition 7)
  • Noise in excess of 70 decibels from a pressure washer in violation of Condition 10 and 13) was to be dealt with by investing in a replacement steam cleaner, but reversed due to cost.
  • Hours of use (Condition 11) cause disturbance to neighbouring residences every weekday morning.
  • The Volume of traffic (Condition 9) continue to be flouted.
“A small part of the land used for operational storage was actually within the green belt part of the site … it is important for the operational needs of the business to retain a layout a little different from the originally approved one” A “little different” might be appropriate for a 10% increase.  However:

  • The proposed site layout effectively doubles the commercial area, largely at the expense of Green Belt.
  • The change from car and lorry parking with open storage or work strictly forbidden to unspecified storage, parking and circulation for miscellaneous plant and machinery, is a massive change of use which is inappropriate in a residential area
  • The reconfiguration of the site will allow significantly more HGVs, plant and storage to use the site than even now, far more than the 6 lorries for which permission was granted.
“The revised scheme will enable a strong landscaped boundary to the residential development on the south west and to the green belt on the east” The amount of planting proposed is less than 10% the 1,044 plants proposed in the original scheme and would fail to hide storage of plant and machinery that is clearly visible from the residential areas on both sides of the site.  The scheme fails to include landscaping on both sides of McArdle Way, as per the landscaping conditions.  The scheme, if allowed, would clearly damage the outlook of this part of the Colne Valley Way.
“An earlier landscaping scheme had been submitted, but for reasons that are unclear it was not concluded.” The correspondence to this is publically available in the Council’s files and was passed on to them on 14 December 2009.
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