Engineering firm Versarien, which is listed on the London Stock Exchange, has chosen to locate its UK headquarters in the Forest of Dean – speaking volumes about the area’s potential, according to the leader of the district council.
Tim Gwilliam, leader of the Coleford-based local authority since 2017, said the decision by Versarien to relocate from Cheltenham to Longhope, reflected the pro-business stance the district had taken.
‘We have made a point of speaking to business – asking what it wants and seeking to understand its needs,’ said Mr Gwilliam, a former engineer who now works in the social housing sector.
‘Cyber Central (the plans for a cyber-focused business park near Cheltenham) is a tremendous opportunity for Gloucestershire, but we thought ‘why can’t we have a bit of that?’.
The conversation has not just helped lead to Versarien’s investment in Longhope – other firms, including the Authentic Bread Company and Dezac, have also moved onto the fast-growing business park, once home to Richard Read Transport.
Ed Ruddy, who manages Longhope Business Park for co-owner Roger Head, said: ‘We have developed 100,000 more square feet and have another 100,000 to come which should be complete by 2023. That should lead to about 400 jobs on the site.’
Neill Ricketts, the chief executive officer and co-founder of Versarien, added: ‘We have more plans for the site yet, including a new 10,000 square feet Innovation Centre.’
Work is underway to prepare for the new-build which Mr Ruddy said was ‘proceeding well’ through the planning system.
The conversation between the local authority and business includes Severn & Wye Smokery owner Richard Cook’s multimillion pound plans for Lydney Docks, and the new AccXel construction training centre in Cinderford too.
Also in the mix is the bid for £20 million of government levelling up cash, in partnership with Hartpury University and Hartpury College, Cinderford Town Council and the district council, backed by Mark Harper MP.
‘We have a fantastic quality of life here. The pandemic has helped business realise the importance not just of work-life balance, but how it can operate differently. We are in a good place and people are beginning to realise that’ added Mr Gwilliam.
By Andrew Merrell