Food and drink innovation centre takes step forward

A food and drink innovation centre at Junction 21 Enterprise Area, Weston-super-Mare has taken a step forward following a decision by North Somerset Council’s Executive.

Councillors supported the principle of FoodWorks SW and a bid to fund its construction to the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).

They approved in principle committing four acres of council land at Weston Business Quarter in the Junction 21 Enterprise Area for the development of the centre, dependant on land and construction costs being funded through LEP.

They also recognised the centre will require a revenue subsidy over the first three years of its operation of up to £300,000 with effect from 2018/19.

The initiative is targeted at food and drink manufacturers and will create a centre of excellence for the region to boost the profile of a key sector and Junction 21 Enterprise Area as a key business location.

There will be three elements to the centre:

  • a business engagement facility that will create a much-needed regional focus for the industry, providing space for meetings, business development, support and advice and an opportunity to showcase regional food and drink
  • product development facilities that will provide specialist technical support and equipment to enable businesses to scale up production, innovate and develop new and existing products
  • business workspace – small food-grade units for new and growing businesses.

A full planning application for the centre will be submitted this autumn. Current estimates indicate the build cost is some £9m, with an additional £1.7m required to cover land issues. Subject to planning approval and the necessary funding, work will start in spring next year with the centre opening late summer 2018.

The project will create more than 160 jobs in food manufacturing, testing and production, and this will increase as businesses move on and into larger premises within the Food Enterprise Zone. It is expected more jobs will be supported through the development of the wider supply chain and through on-site business support.

A centre operator will be responsible for developing the facilities and delivering a dedicated business support programme to the businesses using the centre.

A private sector-led project advisory group acts as a critical friend to advise on the specific needs and requirements of the food and drink industry and ensure the centre is seen as relevant regionally and nationally. It comprises North Somerset Council, UWE, Campden BRI, BIC Innovation, Business West, North Somerset Enterprise Agency, Thatchers, Yeo Valley, Lovely Drinks and Marshfield Bakery.

“This is an exciting development for North Somerset, highlighting our strength in this market sector,” said Cllr Elfan Ap Rees, the council’s deputy leader.

“FoodWorks SW will help increase the profile of the area and the business opportunities across all of the sites at Junction 21 Enterprise Area. It will target support at the food and drink industry leading to more jobs and business growth, and form a critical element of the DEFRA designated Food Enterprise Zone.”