New ‘innovation centre’ to transform Weston into regional leader?
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A multi-million-pound food innovation centre is set to create hundreds of jobs in Weston-super-Mare and give the town’s reputation as a business hub a significant ‘regional boost’.
The dedicated South West Food Innovation Centre will be located in the junction 21 Enterprise Zone, close to the M5, and will create more than 160 jobs in food manufacturing, testing and production.
The £9million project is being led by North Somerset Council, with support in learning opportunities coming from both Weston College and the University of the West of England (UWE).
The council is hoping the project, which is also being supported by the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), will be backed by Government funding.
A council spokesman said: “The design is being finalised over the coming months, but the centre is aimed at food development and manufacturing and will be a regional centre to boost the profile of the sector and this area as a business location, particularly the junction 21 Enterprise Area.
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“As well as during the construction period, the project is expected to initially create more than 160 jobs. This will increase as more businesses move in and out of the units over time.
“It is (also) expected more jobs will be created off-site in a range of other businesses and sectors supporting the centre and benefitting from the work undertaken out of the centre.”
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If the authority’s bid for funding is successful, work will start in spring 2017 and the centre will consist of three specialist departments.
The council’s spokesman said: “These will be a business centre for meetings, training, support, advice and opportunities to showcase regional food and drink, product development to provide specialist technical facilities and equipment to support businesses wanting to develop new, or improve existing products, and business workspaces, consisting of food-grade small units for new and growing businesses.”
In order to kick-start the project, the council also awarded £30,000 to a business development programme based at the site’s designated food enterprise zone, which will be used as a ‘pilot’ scheme for a longer-term programme once the centre is built.
The council has also launched a public consultation which, if successful, could see automatic outline planning permission granted to food businesses which are looking to open within the enterprise zone.
A council report into the development programme said: “The primary aim of the business development programme is to build a strong reputation for supporting SME (small and medium enterprise) growth and innovation in the food and drink sector, before the proposed new South West Food Innovation Centre is built.
“The programme is to be used as a pilot for a longer-term support programme that will eventually be delivered from the centre.”