A commercial-led development, potentially comprising multiple units to house several small businesses, would be the best use of a soon-to-close major industrial site in Sudbury, a report has concluded.
A 127-page options appraisal document on the future of the Delphi Diesel Systems plant in Newton Road was published on Tuesday, investigating five possibilities for the site following its closure in 2020, which will affect hundreds of jobs.
The report, conducted by consultancy Carter Jonas and commissioned by the South Suffolk Taskforce, considered five options, ranging from retaining and renovating the existing building to a wholesale mixed residential and commercial redevelopment.
It determined the proposed options for a commercial scheme would deliver higher profit margins due to lower costs, and that providing units for multiple tenants could be more feasible than finding a single buyer to take over the entire plot.
Meanwhile, it also found “a clear trend” that affordable housing provision would impact the financial viability of a residential scheme, and reducing the number of affordable homes would be the only clear way to “bridge the viability gap”.
The options appraisal concludes: “Contrary to popular opinion, our analysis suggests that the best use of the site is as a commercial-led opportunity in some shape or form, unless significant concessions to the affordable element of the residential scheme can be made through the planning process.
“As a result of this viability conundrum, we would expect interest from residential developers to be highly conditional on planning.
“This could open up the possibility for a commercial investor or developer to acquire the site and retain some, if not all, of the jobs that would otherwise be lost.”
The report has been welcomed by South Suffolk MP James Cartlidge, chairman of the South Suffolk Taskforce, who stated it will reassure current Delphi employees that they are looking in depth at what can be done to support the site.
“The positive news is that the research shows that, even if the site were not sold as one single industrial concern, using the site for multiple commercial users would be an eminently viable option,” he said.
The options appraisal report stated that, while using the existing factory would be the fastest solution, because of less planning and redevelopment work being required, the probability of finding a single tenant is low, with a limited pool of potential occupants.
Conversely, it concluded that dividing the site into multiple units would allow greater flexibility for use by a number of tenants, and would retain a large area of open space to allow businesses the opportunity to expand.
Delphi Diesel Systems has declined to comment on the report’s findings, but the company stated it is continuing with the process to seek prospective buyers for its Sudbury plant.
A spokesman for Delphi Diesel Systems said: “At the end of last year, we opened the formal bidding process for the sale of the site and we have met potential buyers during the past few months.
“The bidding process is now in its final stages and discussions continue.
“When a final outcome is reached, further information will be made available. Our employees at Sudbury will be the first to be informed.”
But the South Suffolk Taskforce, which held its most recent meeting on Friday, said the findings support its priority of retaining the site for industrial use, for the benefit of the Sudbury economy, and it welcomed the chance to discuss this with Delphi bosses in more detail.
Mr Cartlidge said: “From the correspondence I receive, I know that workers at the Delphi plant remain understandably worried about their future.
“I want to reassure them that every member of the taskforce is aware of that anxiety and is working hard to look at what can reasonably be done to find a buyer to preserve as many of the remaining jobs as possible.
“Indeed, in evidence to the taskforce on Friday, a leading commercial surveyor based in Sudbury confirmed what I am hearing at every business meeting in the town, which is that there is a lack of space for existing firms to expand into, and that a new site with numerous plots could be attractive, and very much strengthen the town’s economy.”
Babergh District Council has also confirmed it is planning to commission a workspace study, along with Mid Suffolk, to collect evidence on the types of employment space being sought across the two districts.
It intends to report back to the South Suffolk Taskforce with the results of the study this autumn.
John Ward, leader of Babergh District Council, said: “The Delphi site has provided skilled, well-paid jobs for the people of Sudbury for many years and we’re committed to seeing the site continue to support local employment.
“Sudbury offers a well-connected, good value location with a dedicated and talented workforce.
“As part of the taskforce, we’ll be working hard to attract investment to this site and others across the district, for the benefit of our local economy, community and businesses,” he added.
Published by the Suffolk Free Press.