Cheshire East Council has completed the local development order process to enable Reaseheath College to proceed with ambitious plans to create an innovative food enterprise zone.
The Nantwich college will now develop enhanced teaching facilities with the potential for incubator space for small-to-medium food and farming-related businesses.
Local development orders were introduced by the government to streamline the planning process for landowners and create greater certainty.
The local development order lasts for 15 years, allowing the college – a beacon of excellence in rural skills and training – to carry out further significant developments without the need to follow traditional planning processes.
The LDO will be regularly reviewed and can be revoked at any point by the council if appropriate to do so.
The FEZ, set up through the LDO, is designed to boost the borough’s rural economy by providing facilities for small-to-medium size enterprises, to develop their businesses in the areas of food production and the agri-economy.
The Reaseheath project is a pilot scheme and the local development order will enable the college to develop new facilities and accommodation which, in normal circumstances, would require a lengthy and detailed planning process.
The council carried out a month-long consultation exercise – including a drop-in workshop – to seek the views of local residents and stakeholders to the college’s wide-reaching plans.
They include the development of six sites to incorporate a nutrition centre and a knowledge and development facility which would use drones and remote imaging to monitor and research crop production.
Councillor Ainsley Arnold, cabinet member for housing and planning, said: “The rural economy in Cheshire East needs to strengthen, become more resilient and diversify.
“Applying the LDO process is an effective way of delivering new opportunities for the college and for the many small-to-medium size enterprises that wish to develop, diversify and grow within a conducive and supportive environment.
“The public consultation resulted in no negative reaction to the college’s plans, and from the council’s standpoint, the LDO has proved to be an uncomplicated process which the council will wish to trial in other parts of the borough in the future.”
Reaseheath principal Meredydd David said: “We are really delighted with this decision and grateful to Cheshire East for their support of our vision for the college and the food enterprise zone and for leading on this project.
“The food and agriculture sector is the UK’s largest manufacturing industry and generates over £100bn for the economy each year.
“The FEZ will enable Reaseheath to respond to the needs of the rural and agricultural industries and to support them in embracing new technologies and innovative systems. It will help businesses to penetrate new markets and to enhance profitability.”
The food enterprise zone will strengthen research, technical development, innovation and skills and will enable more collaborative working along the food supply chain.
The Department for Food and Rural Affairs identified Reaseheath as one of a number of pathfinders for the development of FEZs as part of government and council policy, to drive forward a rural affairs strategy to support businesses operating in the rural economy.
In Cheshire East the rural economy represents 32 per cent of the borough’s £3.6bn economy and provides work for more than 65,000 people.
Details of the adopted LDO, including evidence-based documents prepared to support the preparation of the order, will be made available on the council website.