PRO-COUNTRYSIDE campaigners have questioned the need for agrochemical company Syngenta to develop green belt land at Jealott’s Hill in Warfield.

The plans include adding 4,000 homes to the open space, as laid out in the draft Bracknell Forest local plan, as well as building a new science park, two new primary schools, a community hub, a healthcare facility and more.

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But a spokesperson for the Save Jealott’s Hill campaign group has suggested Syngenta’s financial position means it does not need to build up Jealott’s Hill in order to upgrade their Warfield research facilities, something Syngenta denies as the new campus will require “hundreds of millions” of pounds in investment “to succeed”.

What’s the issue?

When the plans were unveiled in September 2019, Syngenta head of real estate Andrew Purcell claimed the development would “secure the future of Jealott’s Hill as a destination for world-leading science and innovation.”

Other groups in favour of the plans have expressed their fears Syngenta will move away from the borough if the expansion plans are not approved.

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But campaigners from the Save Jealott’s Hill group have questioned Syngenta’s need to develop the area surrounding their Warfield base given the company’s financial position.

What is Syngenta’s financial position?

In February 2020, Syngenta reported sales of $13.6 billion for 2019, a figure up from the previous year’s results.

This meant a net income of $1.45 billion for 2019.

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Syngenta was bought out by Chinese chemicals group ChemChina in a 2017 takeover reportedly topping $43billion.

ChemChina, which recorded revenues of $67 billion in 2019, indicated through its chairman Ren Jianxin that it intended to float Syngenta on the Shanghai stock exchange in the coming years, CHEManager reported in 2017.

In January 2020, Reuters reported ChemChina and SinoChem — another Chinese-state owned company (with revenues of $89 billion in 2019) — were consolidating their agricultural assets into a new holding company to be called Syngenta Group.

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Their report claimed this move came as part of a reorganisation of ChemChina’s agrochemicals business ahead of a public float.

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One month later, news site Caixin reported Syngenta would seek to go public in China by mid-2022, a move which could raise capital funds for the group so it can invest in future operations.

What does Save Jealott’s Hill say about this?

Patrick Kennedy, Chair of the Save Jealott’s Hill Campaign, said: "Having followed the Syngenta story in the international business media since late last year it is now clear that Syngenta and it’s Chinese parents have no financial need for an enabling development on Jealott’s Hill of the scale proposed.

“The company is part of an extremely wealthy and successful agricultural and other chemical group trading in the global market and with clear ambitions to launch a massive share flotation n the near future.

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“If their only ambition was to fund an upgrade to their research facilities at Jealott’s Hill they could easily afford to do so from the group resources.

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“If they wanted to facilitate the development of a complementary Science and Innovation Park on the brownfield footprint on the site they could quite easily do so as a stand-alone and financially sound and viable business concept which would actually attract companies to the Park in order to collaborate with Syngenta."

Has Syngenta responded?

The News approached Syngenta for comment and a spokesperson responded: “Our vision originally proposed in 2017 to BFC, is to develop a new science campus that will support our own future research activity and also attract other organisations who like ourselves are undertaking innovation aimed at improving efficiencies and reducing environmental impact in large scale, global, industries such as agriculture, energy, and utilities.

“The new, modernised, multi-company campus will require hundreds of millions in investment to succeed, some of which will be secured through allocations of housing built over the next three decades and covering two phases of Bracknell Forest Council’s local plan.

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“Without full use of the site footprint in this way the project is not viable against other international locations where Syngenta already undertakes its research and development activity.

“Syngenta currently employs 850 people at the site and invests around £200 million per year.

“In putting forward our proposals we aim to continue investing in Jealott’s Hill into the coming decades as the primary location in the UK for the development of agricultural technologies.

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“These technologies play a key role in securing food production and improving agricultural sustainability on millions of hectares worldwide.

“Over time a new community will also form at Jealott’s Hill and we hope to positively engage with all existing neighbours and communities to ensure this works for all through the appropriate provision of amenities, infrastructure and access to green space currently not accessible.

“To ensure that this new community is integrated with the science campus, sustainable, and built to leading standards Syngenta appointed Taylor Wimpey and CEG in 2019 as partners to lead the proposed project.

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“We believe that what we have proposed has clear benefits for Bracknell Forest and the United Kingdom as a whole bringing jobs, innovation, investment and the chance of long term co-ordinated development of housing and infrastructure in a phased manner.

“Of course, all of the development partners recognise that there will be many questions about what is proposed and are keen to engage with all interested parties at the appropriate time, as part of the planning process in the coming months.”