Delegates to the forthcoming food and procurement conference at Reaseheath College, Nantwich (November 26), will get to hear more about Cheshire East Council’s ambitions to establish a Food Enterprise Zone designed to stimulate huge growth in the rural economy and food supply chain and create new skills and jobs.
The pilot project, which is expected to run for five years, will be the first to benefit from the new Local Development Order initiative which seeks to streamline the planning process – in this case allowing permitted development aimed at promoting rural businesses and rural enterprise in designated zones.
Cheshire East Council and Reaseheath heard in February 2015 that they had been successful – along with 11 other councils and enterprise partnerships - in the bid to become a pathfinder Food Enterprise Zone and the Council expects to learn in the New Year whether plans for developing the FEZ at the Nantwich college will be adopted by the Secretary of State.
The zone will see new development within the grounds of the college, with an open-door policy to encourage SMEs and start-ups to grow and diversify within a rural knowledge-based setting together with incubator space, business and technical support.
The proposal is to create a unique and highly innovative integrated food enterprise zone to assist food production and related businesses to access support, skills, specialist technical resources and facilities to grow and thrive.
It would also overcome barriers to growth and business development faced by many SMEs in the food and agri-economy and make careers and jobs in the £100billion industry, far more attractive.
George Eustace MP, Minister of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, will be among the guest speakers and delegates will include food procurement specialists, suppliers and experts in food safety and the supply chain.
Councillor Rachel Bailey, Cabinet member for rural matters, will outline the benefits of the Local Development Order to the rural economy and how it can be applied in order to unlock the economic and jobs potential for many small and medium sized enterprises hoping to gain a foothold in the food supply chain locally and nationally.
The conference is a vital element prior to the formal consultation process that forms one of the many criteria to be met before the FEZ and local development order can be formerly adopted and recognised by the Secretary of State.
Cllr Bailey said: “Our rural areas are amazing places, made up of fantastic landscapes with communities that are passionate about where they live.
“They are a true asset to Cheshire East. We know that our rural economy is increasing in size and importance year on year. Food enterprise is an important part of that rural economy that we know has further potential, delivering jobs, helping to sustain the rural character of our area, reflecting local distinctiveness and contributing to the visitor economy.”
Situated at the centre of Cheshire’s dairy heartland, Reaseheath is seen as a beacon of excellence for its work with the farming and agricultural businesses along the food supply chain.
The proposed Food Enterprise Zone would enable Reaseheath to further support businesses to innovate, grow and develop, complementing existing facilities, supporting primary production and the food and drink section. Projects could provide an agri-Tech Centre, facilities for business support, a nutrition centre and incubator space for start ups.
The entire project meets objectives set out in the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership economic strategy and will contribute to regional and national objectives for agriculture and food science development.
It will help to encourage more young people to train in the agriculture, land management and food production industries, emerging as well-qualified and skilled professionals equipped to take forward and grow a sustainable rural economy in Cheshire East and elsewhere.
The whole project is expected to deliver a £5.9m return on investment per annum.
The conference takes place at the College’s newly completed Centre for Horticulture, The Environment and Sustainable Technologies on November 26, starting at 10.30am.