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Gloucestershire Business News

EXCLUSIVE: RIP auto business, hello new homes?

Renewed plans for a bid to demolish a rural auto repairs business have been put before Forest of Dean planners after a move last year to clear the site for housing.

Originally requested last autumn as a bid for nine homes, the Cross Keys Garage sits on a prime 0.22ha site in the village's High Street and has been unoccupied for a number of years.

A range of two-bedroomed and three-bedroomed homes, together with one five-bedroomed property, were requested last year but subsequently withdrawn, while a new ecology report, prepared for the bid, now suggests that figure will be reduced to seven homes in total, comprising four three-bedroomed and two three-bedroomed units, together with a larger, five-bedroomed design.

Consultants working on the original scheme stated each home would have a white render finish with feature timber cladding between the ground and first floor windows in a dark grey colour to match blue/black roof tiles. Each house was also designed to have parking for two cars, with an extra two spaces for visitors.

The site, registered as the premises of Adrian Hutchence Service & Repairs, has been empty and in decay for some years, but West Dean District Council has told Punchline that change to housing and loss of the site for commercial use was a concern for the local economy.

Kim Carpenter, council clerk, said: "It will go before our planning committee on September 19th and there will be a public forum for people to voice their views. As a broader issue, there is a concern that small, independent garages are disappearing in rural areas like ours and that, with the move towards electric cars, there is a skills gap."

Retention of such sites for future vehicle repair business could be an opportunity for local employment, she said.

"As we are moving towards electification, here in our High Street we still have no car charging points for the public to use. And people who go over to EVs will find that they have to go some distance for servicing at major car dealers, which is not good for local business and competition."

In the next decade, auto executives recently told KMPG in a survey that they anticipated as much as half of all small auto repair shops in the UK may disappear within a decade, while in April, Vehicle Service Pros flagged a warning about small garages simply not having the financial ability to navigate the transition.

The industry commentator said: "A primary challenge for repair shop owners in the midst of this transition is the general lack of knowledge and training around EV technology... our technicians will require specialized training and equipment to service them effectively. Many repair shop owners who have spent years specializing in traditional vehicles may not have the necessary financial resources, knowledge or equipment to repair EVs, which can be a significant barrier to entry into the emerging EV repair market."

Car Dealer magazine has also reported that "the seismic shift towards electric vehicles could sound the death knell for the second-hand backstreet used car lot."

According to chartered surveors Bruton Knowles, Gloucestershire is now seeing a "sustained disposal of good road-side automotive sites" for potential housing development.

Dorian Wragg, commercial partner, said: "In the past two months alone, we have received instuctions for two such sites. There is now a shift as the industry moves towards electification: car sales are increasingly moving more online, or where to showrooms often in a shopping centre setting, while fuel forecourts, with litre prices returning to a lower level and squeezing margins, are often making just pennies."

He added: "We of course have a shortage of EV charging, but we see that as being site-specific and more relating to trunk road, relatively out-of-town locations."

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