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14 April, 2020 - 21:50 By Tony Quested

Cambridge AgriTech park developers vow to fight on after fresh planning setback

With many areas of the UK suffering major food shortages because of the coronavirus outbreak – and that’s before Brexit kicks in – the Government has rejected on appeal plans for a world-leading new AgriTech park in the Cambridge technology cluster.

But developer SmithsonHill has vowed to fight on despite losing the appeal to the Secretary of State, who found that the proposed development would result in unacceptable harm to nearby heritage assets.

SmithsonHill believes the ARC Cambridge proposal could use AgriTech innovation to develop more and better crops and end the food postcode lottery witnessed before and during the lockdown.

The ARC Cambridge site is just south of Cambridge, adjacent to the newly approved Wellcome Trust expansion site at the heart of the Life Sciences Cluster. At its nucleus will be a 30,000 sq ft innovation hub for AgriTech entrepreneurs and early-stage startups to grow their emerging businesses. ARC aims to support an estimated 4,000 jobs and increase regional GVA by £277 million a year by 2030.

Despite often empty shelves in supermarkets and warnings from farmers about workforce shortages to gather this years’ harvest, SmithsonHill’s appeal fell on deaf ears.

For many years there’s been talk of the 4th agricultural revolution and the need for AgriTech to rise up to meet the challenges faced across the food supply chain; many Cambridge companies in the sector are already facing the challenges head on.

A disappointed Emma Fletcher, MD of SmithsonHill said: “Our vision for ARC is to provide the facilities and ecosystem to help our agriculture industry adapt and scale – because the security of our future food supply is now more important than ever.

“The Secretary of State’s ruling is clearly disappointing – but we will continue working with local and national stakeholders and are even more determined to turn this globally significant opportunity into a reality.”

Ironically, in recent months the British government has helped SmithsonHill co-steer transatlantic trade missions including one between Cambridge and St Louis – heartlands that are kindred spirits in agricultural technology.

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