Plans for a new £6m mixed-use building at the site of the UK’s largest inland marina have been approved despite complaints that Government policy discourages entrepreneurial investment.
South Derbyshire District Council this week approved Mercia Marina’s proposed Promenade building, an iconic glass, stone and timber structure housing 14 apartments above seven ground floor retail units.
The planning application, lodged more than 12 months ago, succeeded due to what the marina’s owner John Thornton describes as ‘foresight’ of the local authority, which recognised the scheme’s £11.9m estimated benefit to the local economy over 10 years and the creation of 43 new jobs.
Yet John, former CEO of Derbyshire-based chocolate manufacturer Thorntons, also criticised recent Government policy and attitudes which, he claims, offer few incentives to regional private investment schemes such the Promenade development.
Construction of the Promenade, which the marina expects to begin in around 12 months, follows the completion of two similar developments on the 77-acre site over the past decade – the Boardwalk and Piazza – which have won national awards for architecture.
The Promenade will replace three existing buildings, one of which was originally a timber fishing hut prior to the marina opening 15 years ago and is now a much-loved tea room that will relocate to the new building.
John, founding partner of Mercia Marina, which sits next to the Trent & Mersey Canal at Willington, Derbyshire, said: “We are delighted this iconic new building has received planning approval from South Derbyshire District Council (SDDC).
“We very much hope and believe that the Promenade, which is in keeping with the style of the existing Piazza and Boardwalk buildings, will, when built, become a heritage asset complementing the Canal Conservation Area.”
“It has been a slow and difficult process. But it is thanks to the foresight, support and leadership of South Derbyshire District Council, which realises that the region’s economic, employment and cultural welfare depend upon the encouragement of private investment, that the project has been approved.
“When the economy strengthens, inflation recedes and confidence returns, we look forward to bringing the project to fruition.”
John said that the planning application had succeeded despite, not because of, recent UK Government policy. “We hope that our national leaders will quickly come to realise that it is only through encouragement rather than the recent destruction of private initiative and investment that our country will be able to create the jobs and wealth needed to provide for the future wellbeing of all,” he said.
“The great wealth and social progress created in this country during the nineteenth century was through private rather than public investment, and the levelling up that everyone wishes to see throughout the nation will only be realised when the conditions necessary to encourage and foster local private initiative and investment are created.”
Mercia Marina has grown from a former fishing lake in a gravel pit to becoming one of the leading leisure and tourism businesses in the East Midlands, attracting around 800,000 visitors annually.
The marina supports more than 300 jobs directly, and many more indirectly. An Economic Impact Assessment (EIA) submitted with the latest planning application estimates that the site contributes £18.8m per year towards the local economy (including £9.1m to the visitor economy), with the Promenade set to add a further £11.9m over the next 10 years.
Crucially, the EIA also warns that a lack of investment will result in declining visitor numbers – therefore a loss to the local economy.
Mercia Marina has moorings for more than 600 narrowboats as well as housing dozens of high-quality holiday lodges.
Once construction begins, the Promenade – designed by Repton-based architects Bi Design -is expected to take about 18 months to complete.