Cheshire East’s farming community, food growers and suppliers could soon benefit from a successful bid by Cheshire East Council to secure Food Enterprise Zone (FEZ) status, a government scheme aimed at boosting the economy in the countryside.
Reaseheath College, Nantwich has been chosen to pilot the scheme in parallel with ten similar pathfinder projects throughout the UK.
Cheshire East is one of 11 potential FEZs announced by Elizabeth Truss, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Through a local development order, agricultural businesses and communities will be able to take advantage of relaxed planning regulations to encourage new enterprises and business development in the food growing, food supply and farming industry.
The 272 hectares which form the Reaseheath Estate are at the heart of the Cheshire dairy farming industry and it is hoped that if the pilot scheme is successful, similar FEZs will be established in other parts of the borough.
Reaseheath has a longstanding reputation for working alongside the agriculture industry, food growing and supply chain.
The proposal is to create a unique and highly innovative integrated FEZ within which businesses can access support, skills, specialist technical resources and facilities to grow and thrive.
Welcoming the announcement, Cheshire East Council Leader Michael Jones said: “This is more excellent news for this part of the Borough and great news for our local farmers and food growers.
“I congratulate our team on their successful bid.
“Food Enterprise Zones will help to unlock the potential of our local producers, food and agricultural businesses.
“It will encourage enterprise and job creation across the board, generating opportunity and innovation.
“The County of Cheshire and Cheshire farmers represent a great tradition and have been at the heart of the UK’s food production industry for centuries.
“Reaseheath College is a beacon of excellence in the agri-economy of the UK and is a glowing example of the breadth and depth of skills and innovation in and around the towns of Crewe and Nantwich.”
The Reaseheath enterprise zone will encompass five sites. Schemes will include a new knowledge and development facility to demonstrate the use of drones and remote imaging to increase efficiency in crop production.
There will be incubator space to support and develop new business within the FEZ.
Other initiatives include the development of a nutrition centre to explore the impact of diet on exercise performance and well-being in the general population.
The ambition and objective of the FEZ is to strengthen research, technical development, innovation and skills, to enable more collaborative working along the food supply chain and to support economic growth and healthy competition.
Meredydd David, Principal of the college, said: “Reaseheath is delighted to be working with Cheshire East Council on securing Food Enterpise Zone status, as this will help the college to continue to support the agricultural, food manufacturing and rural businesses within the sub-region of the Local Enterprise Partnership and the surrounding counties.
“Defra’s selection of this project as a ‘pathfinder’ is recognition of the importance of the agriculture and food industry to the regional and national economy and the role that both Reaseheath College and Cheshire East Council play in supporting this hugely valuable industry.”
Cheshire East Council’s successful bid was spearheaded by Caroline Simpson, the authority’s newly appointed Executive Director of Economic Growth and Prosperity, in conjunction with the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership.
Grants of up to £50,000 will be made available for the initial process of establishing a Local Development Order, an essential step towards the creation of a FEZ.
The UK’s food industry is worth more than £100 billion a year to the UK economy and FEZs will ensure that farmers and agricultural businesses in Cheshire East can grow more top quality food and develop innovative businesses that will help to boost the rural economy.
The zones will empower local communities to influence the choice and location of businesses and give added protection to the countryside around their communities.
In a statement, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss said: “Food and farming is at the heart of our long-term economic plan and vital to securing Britain’s economic future.”