I had another morning on the campaign trail for Nick Hillman. The day started meeting with David Willetts, Shadow Secretary of State for Universities and Skills, in front of Marshalls.
The future of Marshalls and Cambridge Airport often comes up in discussions about Cambridge. Marshalls is a very high profile engineering company with its roots in motor motoring and a long history in aviation. Concorde’s “droop snoot” nose was developed by Marshalls. Its location close to the centre of Cambridge, fostering close links with the University, while having a its own 2,000m long runway allows them to service many high profile commercial and military maintenance contracts.
It is the biggest employer of skilled engineers in the city and provides an important source of income to other specialist engineering subcontractors in the region. It is also committed to vocational training and recently opened a new training academy close to its main airport site. Marshalls hope to make Cambridge and the UK a global hub for skills development in the aerospace industry. Investing in skills such as these is vital for Cambridge, the region and the nation. Making this investment now as we start to move out of the recession is an important and forward thinking step.
Inevitably the subject of housing development comes up around any discussion of Cambridge Airport. Marshalls is situated close to the city centre and there is space on the airfield site to development well over a thousand homes. But that would mean closing the Marshalls site and making a costly move out of the city. This is not a decision to take lightly. In the words of David Willetts
“I hear loud and clear just how much local people need the airport to stay where it is. I am particularly interested in hearing about the Marshall site after reading about their new training academy in the Cambridge News the other day. During the recession, it is vital that employers continue training their staff so that they are well-placed when the recession ends.”
Nick Hillman, PPC for Cambridge, echoes this view.
“If the Marshalls development were to go ahead, it would have a big impact on the range of jobs available locally. The airport is a major and long-standing employer with an excellent record in training. It is pointless to build lots of new homes in this part of Cambridge if we remove the skilled jobs that local people need and which help our local economy thrive – and if there isn’t the infrastructure to support them.”
The debate is bound to continue as long as Cambridge continues to grow and the pressure on housing remains. However any decision needs to take into consideration all of the linkages and impact that closure of the airport would have.