Millbrook Proving Ground
Before 1967 Vauxhall motors in Luton had been looking for test facilities. They had a small site at Chaul End. There was little potential for development or expansion and, as the industry grew, Vauxhall had to send their cars abroad for testing.
In 1967 the 700-acre site Great Farm in Lidlington came up for sale. At Easter the Lye Mead Farm at Millbrook also came onto the market. Great Farm was hilly whereas Lye Mead was flatter, an ideal combination for the facilities Vauxhall were looking for.
There were a number of problems. The site had a public road going through it. The road would need to be moved to allow for a 2-mile circular test track (this was the minimum size required). Vauxhall wanted a 3-mile track. There was an island of 25 acres in the middle of the site, which would need to be purchased. Part of the site was approved as an area of great landscape although it was right next to Marston Valley brickworks. Vauxhall could see the advantages of the site as it was bounded by the Oxford-Beds-Cambs railway. The southern side was hill terrain and was ideal for the hill route. The northern end was much flatter and perfect for the 2-mile circuit.
In April 1967 the Drainage Board bought the land. A meeting took place on 2 May 1967 between Vauxhall motors and West Herts Drainage Board (WHDB). Vauxhall offered £225,000 conditional to change of land use and planning permission being granted. This was a £50,000 profit in one week for West Herts Drainage Board. The Drainage Board were influenced by how quickly they could locate another suitable site. They would not be operational until September, as they had to organise specialist equipment for transporting and spreading the sludge. This gave Vauxhall time to arrange planning permission.
Another meeting on 25 May 1967 was held between Vauxhall and WHDB. At this meeting it was agreed that WHDB would sell to Vauxhall. WHDB started to look for a different site and Vauxhall continued with their planning application. The news broke that Vauxhall had decided to purchase the land. Before they could arrange planning permission to change land use it was announced that West Herts Drainage were interested in the land for treated sewage sludge disposal. This transaction was being completed as a public utility and therefore did not need planning permission. Vauxhall put forward a number of proposals for the site, which included a need for additional land. Diversions needed to be made to footpaths. Mains and water supplies needed to be added as well as a public road, power cable pylons and a government fuel line.
On 29 June 1967 the MP for Housing and Local Government directed that the planning application should be directed to him. Between 19 September 1967 and
21 September 1967 an enquiry was held to discuss the planning application. Vauxhall Motors Ltd to change the land use from agricultural to a motor vehicle proving ground. The enquiry, contrary to a lot of objections, supported the application excluding the land outside the perimeter fence, which had to be kept agricultural. The landscaping had to include a higher density of tree planting both inside and outside of the perimeter fence. On 6 December 1967 the Minister of Housing and Local Government endorsed the recommendation - the only purpose built testing ground in the UK - built on once poor quality farmland.
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Today new vehicles are put through their paces in a landscaped wooded area. They develop cars, pushing them through the speed and safety barriers. Millbrook are also concerned with the environment.
They research ways of reducing emissions and develop petrol alternatives. They research safety issues as well. Milllbrook is currently a 700-acre site, which is landscaped and planted with 250,000 trees to lessen environmental impact and increase security.
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