In addition to the land where GBR Challenge are based at the old FBM yard, the Peter Harrison Family Trust has acquired the waterfront sites of Souters and the Samuel White Industrial Estate further down river, which combine to form a total area in the order of 15 acres.
The reason for the acquisition of these properties has drawn much speculation. Was Peter Harrison buying them in an ambitious plan should GBR Challenge bring the Auld Mug back to Blighty at some point in the future? Would we see the Medina River with travel lifts aplenty, along with barbed wire fencing and state of the art security systems?
This is not the case says Charles St George, spokesman for the Peter Harrison Family Trust: "What the Family trust is doing is looking is looking at the site to build and house a permanent HQ for GBR Challenge for future America’s Cup challenges with possibly associated businesses. We’ve had discussions with Offshore Challenges, about a more permanent base for Ellen MacArthur. That is where he [Peter Harrison] is starting from, but in order to do that he needs some enabling development because it is a highly contaminated site, it’s got flooding problems, so the whole level of the site will need to be raised to make it suitable for development. It is very expensive site to develop properly."
While it is being proposed that some of the site will be used for the British AC base, the rest will include space for related businesses, around 300 flats and town houses in a marina-style development and some small retail facilities to support them. Outside of the 4-5 acres to be taken up by GBR Challenge, it is anticipated that the rest will be around 40% business usage and 60% non-business - mainly housing, but also a hotel and a health and fitness club, both of which would be advantageous for Harrison's AC campaign. "Some of the locals have been saying fewer flats and more houses, to make it more upmarket so you get the value out of that, but there are other planning considerations, and it’s not quite clear how that is going to work out," says St George.
The site development is being managed by a company called Donaldsons while EDAW are the appointed architects.
The development will form a major part of what is known as Project Cowes. Run by the Isle of Wight council, SEEDA (the Southeast England Development Agency) and the local business community on the Isle of Wight, Project Cowes is looking at the regeneration of the whole of the Medina river. "One of the underpinning aspects of that is that there is a huge amount of empty employment space in Cowes, and they need to get more employment into the town, but in order to do that you need modern employment premises," says St George. Those looking for property in Cowes, be it second homers or the sailing community, are an obvious way of kick starting that, he adds.
In November the Peter Harrison Family Trust held a small exhibition at the GBR base showing their proposals for the site. Now St George says that the consultation stage is at an end and the next step is the planning application. "We’ve got to analyse the results and think about what they mean for the scheme and look further at the economic viability of the whole development - can it be made to do what it needs to provide the facilities for GBR? It is not about making a profit really. It is about providing a permanent base for GBR Challenge. And then deciding from that if we’ve got a viable scheme and if we’re going to run with a planning application. So it’s probably going to be the spring before we’re ready."
Once the planning application is put in it is unlikely that a decision will be made by the Council until the end of the year. "That’s a fairly ambitious time frame that assumes that the Council can turn it round in 4-6 months and that central government doesn’t intervene which it has the power to do calling in the application for a public enquiry. The zoning of the site is industrial under the adopted local plan. So going for a mixed development is contrary to adopted policy therefore the Council will need to refer it automatically to the government to consider whether or not there is a public enquiry. Obviously with all that is going on in Project Cowes, which the government is effectively involved in, maybe the view is that the policy is out of date and that regeneration takes priority and then need to get on with it."
If planning permission does go ahead it could still be 5-6 years before the development is complete. However St George adds a small warning: "This is Peter Harrison’s prefered site for the permanent base. Having said that if things don’t go right with this he’d have to look at other options..."
See page 2 and 3 for the proposed plans for the development area...
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