Plans to develop a technology business park in Ryedale with the potential to attract hundreds of jobs have taken a major step forward.
Ministers have announced the Government intends to find a private sector business to work as a partner with the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera), which occupies a huge site at Sand Hutton.
Proposals have been developed to turn Sand Hutton into a wider business park to attract agriculture and food technology firms alongside the existing Fera operation. Supporters of the idea believe the Government’s plans for Fera will make the idea even more attractive to the private sector.
Barry Dodd, the chairman of the York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “We think this will be a positive move.
“It is really important to commercialise that site and by having a joint venture partner, a commercial partner, alongside that will make it easier to attract other companies within that industry.”
Fera already employs about 500 scientists and a further 150 administrative staff on the site and the business park proposals suggest up to an additional 800 could be accommodated.
It is hoped private companies will be lured by the chance to work alongside Fera experts and to take advantage of the site’s state of the art scientific facilities which are currently underused.
The LEP has submitted a bid for £8.3m to the Government’s Local Growth Fund to fund changes to the layout of the site and improve access to make it more attractive to businesses.
Other schemes in the Ryedale area the LEP hopes could benefit from Government money include the re-location of Malton Livestock Market and infrastructure improvements to the A64.
Mr Dodd claimed that the Sand Hutton scheme had the potential to mirror the success of the Advanced Manufacturing Park in South Yorkshire.
He added: “We are trying push this along. It is really exciting, a really interesting project with the potential to be important for the whole of the UK, not just Yorkshire.”
Fera conducts a range of research into issues facing the food and agriculture industries.
Under the proposals, parts including the plant health and seed inspectorate will be separated into a new Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency that will remain entirely under Government control.
The remainder of Fera will become part of a joint venture with a private sector company.
Environment Secretary Owen Paterson said: “Fera is a leader in its field with an international reputation for protecting plant and bee health and food safety.
“A joint venture will protect and enhance its scientific capabilities in the long term, and free it from public sector constraints. This will give Fera the opportunity to access new markets and grow its non-Government business, which it cannot do in its current capacity.
“Procuring the right external partner, with the necessary commercial expertise and experience will help Fera to maximise its market potential and grow its non-Government revenue.
“This would ensure that Defra achieves its long-term aims for a more resilient and thriving Fera and that Government continue to have access to the high-quality scientific capability it requires.”
The Government aims to choose the commercial partner for Fera by the end of the year.