From Our Midland Correspondent
REDNAL, WORCESTERSHIRE, JAN. 1
The interests of the mini-car and of the Worcestershire green belt are in headlong collision here. The national balance of payments could be affected by the clash, it was argued at a planning inquiry which began today. The central question is simple. Should the British Motor Corporation be allowed to build a factory extension of 300,000 sq. ft. and a trailer park on part of the 46.5 acres which the company owns at Cofton Hackett.
The land is in the draft green belt adjoining the Austin works at Longbridge. Throughout much of the day, the main part of the B.M.C. case was being put by Mr Eric Blain, Q.C., and by Mr W. H. Davis, the corporation’s deputy managing director. The land was of no great natural beauty, they said. Failure to find space to expand would mean a serious lessening in B.M.C.’s competitive efficiency.
LOSS OF OUTPUT
Mr Davis said about 6 per cent of the nation’s exports were made by B.M.C. The corporation’s exports had averaged more than £100m. a year for the past five years, and they could be increased to no less than £220m. a year by the present expansion plan. Half this total would be from the sale of cars produced at Longbridge.
“Many Longbridge buildings are waiting to be pulled down, but this cannot be done until new buildings are available ” he continued. If the present buildings are pulled down before alternative accommodation is available, a loss of production will result and heavy unemployment will be unavoidable.
“Workers’ cars are also a tremendous headache to us and to the local police. At the present time 2,700 cars, 270 motor cycles, and 20 coaches are parked at the works daily. We estimate that in five years’ time there will be some 5,000 employees cars requiring accommodation at the Longbridge factory.”
The new factory space, he said, was required for the manufacture of small parts for power units of less than 1300 c.c. capacity. The units were being made at Longbridge by high-speed methods: it would be more expensive and less efficient to make these components elsewhere. High speed production was centred upon the Austin works and if any large quantity of it were moved away, higher costs would be bound to result. Mr Davis concluded: “Unless this development is allowed, the whole of the B.M.C. development and reorganization programme will be disrupted. This would seriously disrupt this country’s export drive and the balance of payments.”
Mr Blain said the B.M.C.- had not objected when the land was included in the proposed Worcestershire green belt. The county council had agreed to include in their proposal the sentence: ” The responsible requirements of large and established industries which cannot be expected to move will have special consideration on their merits.”
In his opinion the application fully qualified to receive this consideration. He was bound to admit, however, that the county, council did not agree with him. Among objectors to the proposal are Worcestershire County’ Council, Bromsgrove Rural District Council, Cofton Hackett Parish Council, Midlands New Towns Society, and Cofton Hackett Green Belt Protection Association. During the next few days Mr D. Senior, the Ministry inspector, is likely to hear a good deal about the need to respect a draft green belt, the view from the Lickey Hills, the amenities of Cofion Hall, aesthetics in general, and the Midlands population policy.
AIM OF REBUILDING
A request that Mr Senior should hold evening sittings for the Cofton Hackett residents has been refused. Mr R.A. Etheridge, the Longbridge convener of shop stewards, announced that if it were granted he wished to bring 15,000 B.M.C. workers to give evidence on the other side, Mr. Geoffrey Ayre, the company’s building projects engineer, said the Longbridge works now produced three vehicles every two minutes. It was hoped to increase the rate to more than two vehicles a minute. To do this it was necessary to carry out a rebuilding programme requiring a complicated series of moves by departments: This could not be done unless the corporation had a new building of 300,000 sq. ft. at Longbridge.