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Weathermen Could Move To Leam

The Met Office is eying a £100 million move to Leamington, but the question is whether there is room in the town.

The town is on the short list of 10 sites for a new home for the Government weather agency that employs 1,200 people.

A 35-acre site is being sought, so all Meteorological Office operations can be consolidated on one site. Leamington is up against the likes of Shrewsbury, Norwich, Exeter and Cornwall to land the huge project.

The criteria to find the favoured sites included good schools, road and rail links, housing, land availability and potential for expansion. The list is made up of upmarket market towns, to fit in with the Met Office image.

A Met Office spokesman at the Berkshire base said that staying in its present location in Bracknell has been ruled out:

“These buildings date back to 1961 and they are wearing out - there are some structural problems so we are looking for a new site. 

“We have been looking at desirable areas, and it is true to say we would not be looking at an area that is deprived.

“The final decision will be announced this year and are definitely moving from this site.

“When the new site is known, we can then find out how many people will wish to move to the new town.”

Vacancies would be created by the number of staff who would not move to the new site. Leamington is about a 90-minute drive from Bracknell, and is one of the nearest towns to the current HQ being considered.

Initial relocation work started five years ago, and has really got going in the 12 months with a shortlist of locations and contractors made public, and the final choice to be announced in the Autumn.

Work should start in 2002 and followed by a year-long phased movement to the new site from the current 10 locations in the Bracknell area.

The Met Office is an agency of the Ministry of Defence and manages itself as a business. The £100 million scheme will be paid for under a PFI (private-finance initiative) where an outside group would own the buildings and the Met Office would effectively be a tenant paying rent.  

A list of 80 contractors has come down to eight including W S Atkins (well-known in Leamington for their work on a £40,000 parking study), Strata, Group 4, Logica and Mowlam who are assessing the sites.

Warwick District Council would be the planning authority for a Leamington-area location. Although the project and jobs would be welcomed, there are doubts whether there is such a huge vacant site.

Dennis Stanley, economic development officer, said:

“It is good news for the area, not just for Leamington but for the Coventry and Warwickshire sub-region as a whole.

“Warwick District will benefit from the expansion of Marconi in Coventry – while Coventry and Warwickshire would benefit from the arrival of 1,200 jobs, if the Met Office were to come here.

“It is not just the jobs themselves but the demand created for suppliers and houses and services across a wide area. This is big news for the whole area.

“The project sounds massive, probably twice as big in size as Conoco on the Warwick Business Park, or as big as IBM which employs 1,000 people. There would be significant benefits from across the whole area.

“We will be doing all we can to help them search this area.”

Currently there are no advertised vacancies for a 35-acre business in Warwick District, where many incoming or expanding business complain there is no room for them in the area where space is very much at a premium.

Government agencies are trying, with grants, to attract business to more deprived areas of the Midlands, including the Black Country and north Staffordshire, to arrest the decline of those industrial areas.

No effort is needed to encourage development in Warwickshire where unemployment, at about two per cent, is well below national and regional figures.

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CWN / Weather / 28 Jul 00

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This page modified on 10 November 2008 09:49:15AM