Plans have been unveiled for a £100 million Cotswold innovation village near Cirencester which will create jobs, opportunity and significantly boost Gloucestershire’s rural economy, according to those behind the ambitious scheme.
The Royal Agricultural University wants to transform a 29-acre site at its campus off Stroud Road into a home for ‘a community of entrepreneurs, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers’ who will focus on supporting industry, food producers, farmers, and landowners.
Work at the innovation village would build on efforts already taking place at the Gloucestershire university focused on sustainable solutions for healthy land use, food production, developing resilience in rural communities and drawing in new innovative business ideas.
Professor Peter McCaffery, RAU vice-chancellor, said the project had the potential to ‘turbo-charge SME agri-tech enterprise activity’ in the county.
‘We anticipate we will increase the RAU’s current contribution of £52m to the local and regional economy by half as much again over five years when the project is up and running,’ said McCaffery.
Ruth Dooley, chair of county’s local enterprise partnership of businesses, GFirst LEP, agreed that the scheme would be a ‘major boost to the economic development of Gloucestershire’.
‘Through fostering the emergence of new start-up companies and supporting the growth of scale-ups, as well as being a magnet for inward investment from elsewhere in the UK and overseas, this exciting innovation village will provide many new job opportunities across a range of subjects.
‘It will also help in the delivery of new skills needed to tackle the challenges of food security and sustainable land management,’ said Dooley.
The initiative also has the support of the Department of International Trade (DIT), Gloucestershire County Council, and according to the RAU will provide ‘a rural complement’ to urban developments such as the pending Cyber Central at the heart of Cheltenham’s Golden Valley Development and The Forum in Kings Quarter, Gloucester.
The plans show space for a research and innovation centre, residential and work units, business start-up and support spaces, as well as conferencing hospitality facilities.
According to the RAU, this will be the first innovation village of its kind in the UK focused on agriculture, food and land management, which will only increase the profile of the work it does to address global issues such as climate change, sustainable land use and food production, biodiversity loss, and heritage management.
Dame Fiona Reynolds, chair of the RAU’s governing council, said: ‘The RAU has a proven track record of delivering development projects for innovation and enterprise in agriculture.
‘The Alliston Centre, which was built in 2016 and houses the RAU’s Farm491 – the leading agri-technology incubator and accelerator facility in the country which has helped more than 200 businesses generate £33m in investment and created more than 120 jobs – really paved the way for this innovation village concept.’
Cirencester structural engineers OPS Structures will work with Hereford-based architect Architype and Faringdon-based design and engineering experts QODA on the project with landscape-led design carried out by BD Landscape Architects of Tewkesbury.
The scheme will be overseen by Oxford-based Ridge and Partners who are working closely with the RAU to provide project management and planning services.
A planning application is expected to be submitted to Cotswold District Council this summer 2023. Full planning consent could be granted by spring 2024.