District Plan

Chapter 4: Employment


4.1.1 Employment patterns are influenced by a number of factors. These include national economic trends, technological changes, restructuring within industries, sectoral changes and the availability of land and labour. The effect of these factors on an area depends upon its economic structure. The District Plan can only directly influence the supply of employment land, but this will have an impact on the amount and type of jobs provided in Stevenage.

4.1.2 Stevenage is a sub-regional employment centre for the north Hertfordshire area and provides a range of jobs for both residents and people living outside Stevenage. Most of the employment activity is focused in the town’s two employment areas, Gunnels Wood and Pin Green, although the town centre and Old Town are predominantly commercial areas. During the recessions of the 1980’s and early 1990’s, the economy of Stevenage was particularly affected by the decline in manufacturing industries, especially aerospace and engineering. More recently, there have been job losses associated with restructuring in the financial services sector. However, since unemployment in Stevenage peaked at 12.2% in January 1993, it has fallen significantly to 1.6% by October 2004. The Borough Council is committed to maintaining low unemployment rates in Stevenage and implements a range of economic development initiatives which aim to maintain a healthy economy.

4.1.3 During the 1990’s, the structure of employment in Stevenage changed significantly, moving away from manufacturing towards services such as information technology, financial services and retailing. At the same time, the manufacturing industries that remain have increasingly become high technology based. These changes created a mismatch between the skills of local people and the skills required by local companies.

4.1.4 One of the lessons of the economic recessions in the 1980’s and 1990’s is the need to develop the local economy to reduce its reliance on a limited number of major employers. The diversification of the local economy will help to secure future prosperity. This can be assisted by encouraging a mix of uses and sizes of unit, and by promoting the provision of small or serviced units that will enable new local businesses to start-up.

4.1.5 Government planning policy on employment development is set out in PPG4. The guidance states that it is one of the Government’s aims to encourage continued economic development which is compatible with environmental objectives. It will also be important for employment development to be sustainable in accordance with policy TW1. More specifically, District Plan policies can make provision for sustainable employment development by:
(a) making the best use of existing employment land and premises to minimise the use of greenfield sites;
(b) providing for a wide range of employment opportunities in order to meet the needs of local people;
(c) encouraging employers to locate where they are accessible by public transport, cycling and walking; and
(d) promoting greater flexibility in the use of buildings.

4.1.6 The employment policies of the Structure Plan are based on the Hertfordshire Bright Green Industrial Strategy’ (Source: ”Bright Green: An Industrial Strategy for Hertfordshire”, Hertfordshire County Council, 1994). In summary, the strategy concludes that economic development in Hertfordshire should be based on ‘knowledge-based’ industries set within the attractive environment. ‘Knowledge-based industries’ include information technology, and research and development related sectors such as pharmaceuticals and aerospace. The strategy encourages the provision of high quality business accommodation to meet the needs of these industries. The Borough Council supports the principles of the “Bright Green Strategy” as knowledge-based industries already have a strong presence in Stevenage and their future expansion is encouraged.

4.1.7 In the context of the local economic issues, national and strategic policy guidance identified above, the District Plan’s employment objectives are:
(a) to ensure sufficient land and premises are available in Stevenage for meeting development needs that will facilitate economic growth in accordance with the Hertfordshire Bright Green Industrial Strategy, provide job opportunities for the local workforce and maintain and strengthen Stevenage’s sub-regional employment role;
(b) to encourage the continued diversification of the local economy through broadening the range of employment opportunities provided and reducing dependency on a small number of large firms;
(c) to contribute towards achieving a broad balance between the skills required by companies in Stevenage and the skills of the local workforce;
(d) to ensure that employment development takes place in accordance with sustainable development principles.


4.2.1 Research was commissioned in 1995 as part of the review of the Structure Plan to assess employment floorspace and land needs in the county over the period to 2011 and beyond. Using a range of forecasting techniques, the research concluded that there was sufficient employment land and floorspace in Stevenage to meet needs during the plan period, (Source: Long Term Employment Land Needs, Pieda, 1995). The research accounted for existing floorspace, development commitments (unimplemented planning permissions and allocated District Plan sites) and vacant floorspace in excess of what is needed to allow normal stock turnover.

4.2.2 Since the research was concluded in 1996, the Borough Council has monitored changes in employment floorspace to ensure that there is sufficient provision to meet needs over the period of the District Plan. The results of the 2004 employment floorspace monitoring research are summarised in Table E1 (Source: Employment Land Monitoring Statement 2001). This shows that in overall terms the supply of employment floorspace at April 2004 is broadly in balance with the level of estimated demand for additional floorspace over the period up to 2011.

Table E1: Quantitative Demand for Employment Generating Floorspace in Stevenage 1996-2011 (all figures in square metres).

April 1996 -
April 2004
at April 2004
April 2004
Supply at
April 2004
Surplus /

4.2.3 On the basis of this research the Borough Council has decided that there is an adequate supply of floorspace available in Stevenage to meet future needs in quantitative terms. It is not proposed to identify additional employment land in this plan apart from provision to meet the needs of the strategic housing development at Stevenage West. Conversely, it does not justify the release of employment land for other uses with the exception of uses that the policies of the plan consider to be appropriate in an Employment Area. The Structure Plan endorses this approach and does not require any local authority to identify additional employment land. Instead, Policy 14 of the Structure Plan sets out a criteria based approach for considering employment development proposals.

4.2.4 The above research does not account for the quality of floorspace in Stevenage. Whilst there is sufficient floorspace available to meet future needs, this may not be adequate for meeting the requirements of companies that wish to set up, relocate or expand in Stevenage. For example, vacant floorspace may not be located where businesses are seeking accommodation and may not be suitable for meeting their needs in terms of location, size, age, internal design, car parking provision or the quality of environment.

4.2.5 To gain a greater understanding of qualitative employment floorspace requirements in Hertfordshire, the County and District Councils commissioned research which identified:
(a) shortages in supply in Hertfordshire of high quality out of town office developments (particularly in south west Hertfordshire), small business units, industrial floorspace for low technology operations and major distribution centres;
(b) the creation of urban office parks may help address shortages in out of town office accommodation;
(c) Stevenage as having an adequate supply of employment floorspace and land, and offering major opportunities in terms of both land and labour supply;
(d) the shift from industry to services is expected to continue in Stevenage resulting in more demand for office, research and development, and warehousing space;
(e) that Stevenage is currently perceived to be less attractive than other locations in Hertfordshire for office development because of its relative distance from London and the M25, the poor quality of its existing office stock and the negative image of the town centre. To make Stevenage more attractive to office occupiers, it is suggested that as part of any town centre regeneration initiatives, an attractive new office area is created that would be large enough to influence the image of the town as an office location;
(f) the Gunnels Wood employment area is an important industrial location, but parts of it are considered to be in poor condition. The upgrading of the infrastructure to provide access to the Stevenage West development is considered to provide an opportunity for regenerating the area; and
(g) the provision of additional employment land to meet the needs of the strategic housing development at Stevenage West is justified to prevent an increase in unemployment for groups dependent on local job opportunities and to avoid changing the current balance between homes and jobs in Stevenage changing to a situation where there is significant net out-commuting.

(Source: Employment Space Needs in Hertfordshire, Roger Tym & Partners, 1999)

4.2.6 The policies of this plan will seek to make provision for meeting the qualitative employment space needs identified in the research where they are appropriate to Stevenage and where they accord with the Plan’s employment objectives. A range of development opportunities exist in Stevenage to meet these qualitative needs, therefore there is no justification for identifying additional employment land in the Borough except within the strategic development at Stevenage West. Policies SW13 and SW14 set out the level and nature of employment land provision within the Stevenage West development.

4.2.7 To ensure that adequate provision is made for meeting both quantitative and qualitative employment floorspace and land needs in Stevenage over the period of this plan, the Borough Council will:

(a) regularly monitor changes in employment floorspace supply and demand, and consider the need for alterations to District Plan policies in the light of monitoring results; and
(b) identify a range of sites within the employment areas, town centre and Old Town for meeting future qualitative employment floorspace requirements; and
(c) retain land in employment areas for employment uses, with the exception of other uses that the policies of the plan consider to be appropriate in an employment area.


4.3.1 To ensure there is sufficient land available to meet employment needs in Stevenage, the Borough Council has traditionally monitored the supply of employment floorspace through an annual employment land monitoring survey. This will be continued so that up-to-date information is available which can inform whether changes to plan policies are needed.

4.3.2 Policy 14 of the Structure Plan provides guidance on what aspects of the employment floorspace supply should be monitored. The Borough Council intends to monitor all of these aspects which include changes to the overall stock, development commitments and vacant floorspace. Monitoring studies will also consider how the supply of employment floorspace in Stevenage relates to current information on quantitative and qualitative demand for floorspace. If monitoring studies identify a significant shortfall or surplus in the employment floorspace supply, the council will use the Local Development to allocate additional employment land or release existing employment land for other uses. Consideration will be given to both the quantitative and qualitative aspects of employment floorspace demand when determining whether an alteration to the employment strategy is justified.


The supply of, and demand for, employment floorspace in Stevenage will be monitored annually. In the event of monitoring studies identifying a significant shortfall or surplus of employment floorspace in Stevenage, the Borough Council will consider the need to allocate additional employment land or release existing employment land for other uses through the local development framework.


4.4.1 An integral part of the design of the New Town is the separation of the employment areas from the residential areas. The Master Plans for the New Town established two employment areas, the Gunnels Wood area between the A1(M) and the railway line and the Pin Green area in the north east of the Town. Subsequent District Plans have maintained this structure and have identified extensions to the employment areas. It is intended that this structure will be maintained. Whilst no major extensions to the employment areas are proposed, some amendments have been made to the boundaries of the Gunnels Wood employment area so that the area only includes land which is predominantly in employment use e.g. Stevenage Leisure Park has been excluded.


The following areas are designated employment areas as shown on the proposals map:

1. Gunnels Wood employment area; and
2. Pin Green employment area.


4.5.1 The Borough Council considers it appropriate to allocate sites within the employment areas for employment uses. By identifying specific sites for development, certainty can be provided that opportunities are available for a range of employment developments in Stevenage, including speculative developments and developments to meet the needs of existing Stevenage companies. The identified sites may also make a significant contribution towards meeting employment needs up to 2011. By identifying sites, it is possible to channel particular types of business development into the most appropriate locations. Guidance contained in PPG4 considers that this approach is acceptable where clear justification is provided.

4.5.2 In Stevenage, there is a need to focus on making provision for employment floorspace requirements that may not be met by the existing employment stock or development commitments. Careful consideration needs to be given to the use of vacant sites to ensure that scarce opportunities are not compromised by inappropriate developments that could take place in other locations.

4.5.3 There are sites in the Gunnels Wood employment area which have the potential to make a significant contribution towards meeting Stevenage’s qualitative employment floorspace needs. These sites have, therefore, been identified for particular types of employment development to reflect these needs.

4.5.4 The former Kodak site (E3/1) and the Caxton Way site (E3/2) have potential to be developed for a range of business uses and proposals will be assessed against policy E4.

4.5.5 The Six Hills Way site (E3/3) will be restricted to B1 uses because the site is considered to be appropriate for offices or other uses within the B1 Use Class because of its prominent location on Six Hills Way, its close proximity to the town centre and public transport interchanges and its location adjacent to leisure and office uses.

4.5.6 The site north of Maxwell Road, formerly occupied by ABB Automation Ltd, is situated in a prominent and attractive location within the Gunnels Wood employment area which benefits from a frontage onto Gunnels Wood Road. The site offers the potential for a high quality business development which could incorporate offices, research and development activities and light industrial uses. As the site is located in close proximity to housing, proposals within the B2 and B8 Use Classes will not be favoured where they would have an unacceptable adverse impact on residential amenity in terms of noise and general disturbance.

4.5.7 In addition to the sites identified in policy E3, sites are allocated for office developments in the town centre (policy TR2) and the Old Town (policy OT12). These areas are suitable for this type of development and the safeguarding of opportunities for further office development is needed to help maintain and enhance commercial activity in both areas.

4.5.8 The northern part of the site west of Gunnels Wood Road, which used to be known as the “British Aerospace site” is principally occupied by Matra BAe Dynamics and, following a review of the company’s business requirements, a major redevelopment scheme is currently being implemented with the focus on accommodating the future needs of the company. The remaining part of the site to the south, which extends to 10 hectares, is in separate ownership and this area has potential for a speculative redevelopment scheme.

4.5.9 The vacant land owned by GlaxoSmithKline south of Broadhall Way that forms part of the Medicines Research Centre complex is expected to meet the long term expansion needs of GlaxoSmithKline. At present it is not expected that the site will become available for other types of development. However, as the District Plan covers the period up to 2011, it is necessary to consider the most appropriate use for the site in the event of the land being disposed of by GlaxoSmithKline and made available for alternative development.

4.5.10 High standards of design and landscaping will be essential on the two sites adjoining junction 7 to create an attractive environment and to ensure that an attractive gateway to Stevenage from junction 7 of the A1(M) is provided. Due to the out of centre location and the potential for the development of the sites to generate significant levels of traffic, developments will be required to demonstrate how they will minimise the use of private motorised transport to travel to and from the site. This is essential if employment development is to take place in accordance with sustainable development principles. The Transport chapter provides guidance on how the Borough Council expects developments to deliver this. In addition, the Highways Agency have identified a need for developments to make provision for mitigating against any adverse traffic impact on the adjacent Junction 7 of the A1(M).


The following sites, as shown on the proposals map, are allocated for the employment uses identified in the table below:

1. Former Kodak site, Bessemer Drive
2. Caxton Way
3. Six Hills Way
4. North of Maxwell Road
5. West of Gunnels Wood Road
6. South of Broadhall Way

References to class B1, B2 and B8 are as defined in the Use Classes Order 1987.

Policies OT13, SW12


4.6.1 The District Plan needs to include policies to define what uses are acceptable in the employment areas for the following reasons:
(a) to maximise the employment generating potential of the employment areas;
(b) to help regenerate the employment areas;
(c) to provide certainty for existing occupiers and potential investors;
(d) to retain the structure of the New Town; and
(e) to help maintain the viability of employment uses in the town centre.

4.6.2 The Borough Council generally encourages a mix of development within the B1, B2 and B8 Use Classes within the employment areas as they represent the main employment generating uses which provide a range of employment opportunities. A mix of uses within large development or redevelopment sites is also encouraged to enable employment diversity.

4.6.3 Whilst a mix of employment uses within the employment areas is encouraged, the Borough Council would prefer office development to be focused in the town centre. However, it is acknowledged that new office development is unlikely to be built on a significant scale in the town centre until after wider regeneration schemes have been implemented which address the problems which currently result in the town centre being perceived as an unattractive location for new offices. Office development is therefore permitted in the employment areas to ensure that there is sufficient land available in Stevenage which is readily capable of being developed for offices during the period of the plan.

4.6.4 As there is a limited supply of employment generating land in Stevenage, the job creation potential of employment sites must be maximised. This relates not just to the total number of jobs made available but also to the type and quality of the jobs created. Therefore, the Borough Council will resist uses on major development sites in employment areas which have a high land take with a low level of job creation. This particularly applies to traditional warehousing activities within the B8 Use Class which generally have lower employment densities. The restrictions on the extent of office floorspace on large development sites and B8 uses in employment areas would not be applied where a development proposal is needed for meeting the operational requirements of an existing occupier in the employment area. This is because the Borough Council would not wish to prejudice the future business expansion requirements of these occupiers by applying policy criteria that would be more appropriate to other types of development such as speculative development.

4.6.5 Where developments take place on sites over two hectares in size, they will only be acceptable where the B8 use forms part of a larger mixed employment use development. Conditions may be imposed on a planning permission to restrict the amount of units that can be used for B8 uses.

4.6.6 Other employment generating uses that do not fall within the Use Classes Order i.e sui generis uses (e.g. vehicle and plant hire centres, car showrooms and public transport depots) but which may be suitable in employment areas will be considered on their merits. Considerations will include employment densities, impact on town centre viability, and traffic / environmental impact.


In the employment areas already designated a range of employment uses within the B1, B2 and B8 use classes will be encouraged. A mix of uses within a development site will also be encouraged.

On development sites over two hectares in size proposals for development within the B8 use class will only be permitted if the development forms part of a larger mixed use development within the B1, B2 and B8 use classes or the development proposal is for meeting the operational requirements of an existing occupier of the employment area.

Proposals for employment generating uses that do not fall within the use classes order will be considered on their merits.

References to class B1, B2 and B8 are as defined in the Use Classes Order 1987.

4.6.7 Retail and leisure uses will generally be unacceptable in the employment areas for the following reasons:
(a) their potential adverse impact on the viability and vitality of retail and leisure uses in the town centre and neighbourhood centres;
(b) their impact on the quality and diversity of employment opportunities in Stevenage;
(c) their potential traffic implications.

4.6.8 Uses which support the operation of an employment area by providing facilities for companies and their employees may be acceptable. For example, day nurseries, social clubs, fitness clubs, cafes, local shops and hotels may be acceptable if a local need for the facility can be demonstrated. Such facilities can improve the quality of the working environment and reduce the need to travel for people working in the employment areas.


The development or use of land or premises for retail or leisure uses in the employment areas shown on the proposals map, will not be permitted unless the following criteria are met:

(a) a local need for a facility, in terms of supporting the operation of an employment area can be demonstrated; and
(b) the proposal does not have an unacceptable traffic or environmental impact.


4.7.1 Traditionally the employment base in Stevenage has been dependent on a few large companies. In order to broaden the employment base and provide for a more stable economy, the Borough Council encourages small and medium sized enterprises (SME's) to establish in Stevenage. To achieve this the Borough Council considers it necessary to encourage a mix of size of units wherever possible.

4.7.2 Research undertaken on qualitative employment floorspace needs has identified that there is a shortage of business accommodation to meet the needs of SME’s (Source: Employment Space Needs in Hertfordshire, Roger Tym & Partners, 1999). Small businesses are unlikely to be in a position to provide their own business units and the commercial property market rarely provides affordable units for small businesses. Large sites over two hectares will, therefore, be required to provide a mix of size of units including specific provision for small units. This requirement will not apply to the employment areas in the Stevenage West strategic housing development because policies SW13 and SW14 provide separate policy guidance on small unit provision in that development.

4.7.3 Small unit provision should be for B1 or B2 uses only, to maximise employment generating potential, unless the criteria in policy E5 can be met for B8 developments. An exception to this policy is made for existing companies wishing to use large sites for their expansion as the Borough Council would not wish to impose restrictions on such developments.


In the employment areas shown on the proposals map a mix of size of units within a site will be encouraged.

On development sites over two hectares, there will be a requirement for at least 5% of the net floorspace area within the site to be developed for small business or industrial units within the B1 or B2 use classes unless the site is to be developed to meet the expansion requirements of an existing employment use in Stevenage.

For the purposes of clarity, unit sizes are defined as:
Small units: up to 235 sq.m
Medium units: 236 – 1000 sq.m
Large units: over 1000 sq.m


4.8.1 In addition to the employment areas, certain types of employment use are encouraged in the town centre, Old Town and neighbourhood centres. Policies in these chapters provide further guidance on what uses are acceptable. In the residential areas, some employment uses will not be appropriate because of the environmental and residential amenity problems associated with locating employment development near potentially conflicting uses, such as housing and schools, and because of the need to preserve development land for other uses. However, it is recognised that certain types of employment use, especially small scale developments, can co-exist with housing and other sensitive uses. For example, the small business units that exist in some of Stevenage’s neighbourhood centres and in Old Stevenage. Employment uses located close to residential areas also provide a source of employment for local residents that reduces their need to travel which is consistent with the sustainability objectives of this plan.

4.8.2 Equally, there may be reasons for protecting those existing employment uses in residential areas which do not conflict with residential amenity, particularly small business accommodation that is in short supply in Stevenage and would be unlikely to be replaced within the employment areas if lost. The loss of these units will, therefore, be resisted. For the purposes of policy E7, small units are defined as 235 square metres or less. Where existing employment uses in residential areas can be demonstrated to be no longer viable for employment uses or have an adverse impact on residential amenity, which cannot be mitigated, redevelopment for more appropriate uses may be permitted. Potential may exist for redeveloping existing employment sites in residential areas for mixed use schemes, such as housing and employment developments, without significantly reducing the employment floorspace available. For example, this may be achieved by higher density schemes or through the design and layout of the development. Appropriate mixed use redevelopments of employment sites in residential areas may, therefore, be acceptable where the employment floorspace lost is adequately replaced within the redevelopment.

4.8.3 The principle of homeworking, including tele-working, is encouraged because it can provide new employment opportunities and can reduce the need to travel. Homeworking is only considered to be development where there is a change in the character of the use of a residential property. In these situations, development proposals will only be permitted if they meet the criterion in policy E7 relating to development proposals in residential areas.


Development proposals for employment uses outside the employment areas, including homeworking, will be permitted where the following criteria are met:

(A) They accord with other policies in the plan relating to employment uses in the town centre, old town and neighbourhood centres; or

(B) In residential areas, proposals:

  • Are of an appropriate scale; and
  • Do not have an unacceptable adverse impact on the local environment or residential amenity in terms of traffic generation, car parking provision, visual impact, smell, noise, access and safety; and
  • Do not result in the loss of residential accommodation.

Development proposals that would result in the loss of existing employment uses in residential areas, especially small units, will not be permitted unless it can be demonstrated that they are no longer viable for employment uses or where the existing activity has an adverse impact on the local environment or residential amenity which cannot be mitigated.

Mixed use redevelopments of existing employment uses in residential areas may be acceptable where the employment floorspace lost is adequately replaced within the development.


4.9.1 Many of the vacant buildings in Stevenage are difficult to relet because they are not suitable for meeting modern occupier requirements. This may be associated with the building design not being sufficiently flexible to allow a range of business uses to take place. It is therefore important that business and industrial units are flexibly designed to accommodate a range of uses within the B1 and B2 use classes. This will allow the efficient use of employment land and adaptability to changes in employment floorspace needs.


The construction of buildings which have an internal layout, external loading bays and vehicle turning facilities which will enable the buildings to be used for a range of purposes within the B1 and B2 use classes will be encouraged.


4.10.1 Hertfordshire County Council, as the Waste Planning Authority, has prepared and adopted the Hertfordshire Waste Local Plan 1995 –2005 (January 1999). Policy 12 of the Waste Local Plan identifies “Areas of Search” for future waste management sites, whilst Policy 18 seeks to safeguard existing facilities for waste management uses.

4.10.2 The Hertfordshire Waste Local Plan (adopted 1999) identifies a range of sites across Hertfordshire as ‘Areas of Search’ for different types of waste management facility in order to provide sufficient opportunities for meeting the county’s waste management needs over the period to 2005. The Areas of Search provide a locational framework for determining proposals for various waste management facilities if and when they are needed. Policy 12 of the Waste Local Plan identifies parts of the Gunnels Wood Employment Area (for materials recovery facilities) and an area on London Road (for inert waste recycling facilities) as Areas of Search for permanent waste management facilities.

4.10.3 Specific locations within the Gunnels Wood employment area which would be suitable for materials recovery facilities have not been identified in the Waste Local Plan. In the event that a planning application is submitted to develop a waste management facility within the Gunnels Wood employment area, Stevenage Borough Council will, when consulted by the County Council, oppose proposals which have a detrimental impact on the visual appearance of sites which have frontages on to Gunnels Wood Road and part of Six Hills Way. These frontages currently contain high quality buildings which accommodate many of Stevenage’s major employers and contribute towards making the Gunnels Wood employment area an attractive business location. The siting of a waste management facility with a poor visual appearance on one of these frontages is likely to detract from this image and could hinder the efforts to enhance the quality of the employment area. In addition, the Borough Council will oppose proposals on the access corridors to the Stevenage West strategic housing development in accordance with policy SW8. The criteria for considering proposals for waste management facilities are set out in Policies 2 and 13 of the Waste Local Plan.

4.10.4 Policy 18 of the Waste Local Plan safeguards two sites on London Road for waste management purposes and opposes proposals that would prevent or prejudice the use of the land for waste management unless alternative provision can be made. Waste management operations currently take place on both sites that are identified. These sites are safeguarded due to the scarcity of waste management sites and because existing sites are often the most suitable for waste management. Without safeguarding it is considered that the success of the Waste Local Plan in terms of making provision for facilities which can recycle, reuse, recover and transfer waste may be threatened.

4.10.5 Policy EN39 in the Environment chapter sets out the Borough Council’s approach towards waste and recycling matters in new developments.