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Food Enterprise Park at Easton launches bid to attract commercial tenants

Layout of the proposed Food Enterprise Park at Easton.

Layout of the proposed Food Enterprise Park at Easton.

Archant

After a decade of planning, negotiations are under way with the first potential occupants of a new business park at Easton which aims to create 2,000 jobs and add millions to Norfolk’s food economy.

Landowner Ian Alston, of Honingham Thorpe Farms, on land due to be developed into part of the Food Enterprise Park near Easton. Picture: Chris Hill.Landowner Ian Alston, of Honingham Thorpe Farms, on land due to be developed into part of the Food Enterprise Park near Easton. Picture: Chris Hill.

The commercial launch of the Food Enterprise Park (FEP) has brought the first 46 acres of the 100-acre development site onto the market, with plots of between 5,000 and 500,00sq ft being offered for sale or lease via property agency Brown and Co.

The project aims to attract a “cluster” of food-related companies, from start-ups to major brands, including those involved in agri-tech, processing and manufacturing, or the storage and distribution of agricultural produce, machinery or livestock.

A key goal is to correct an identified shortfall in food processing – the project team says if Norfolk can double its UK share of this sector, so it more closely reflects its share of agricultural production, it would add more than £800m to the county’s economy.

Landowner Ian Alston, of Honingham Thorpe Farms, said: “We want to cluster food-related businesses in central Norfolk, adjacent to the A47 trunk road, and we are seeking synergies between these businesses to create jobs and boost the economy.

The Food Enterprise Park at Easton aims to attract food processing businesses to Norfolk. Picture: Matthew Usher.The Food Enterprise Park at Easton aims to attract food processing businesses to Norfolk. Picture: Matthew Usher.

“We have identified that about 6pc of the UK’s food is produced in Norfolk, but research tells us that less than half of that is processed in Norfolk, so we are effectively exporting jobs out of the county.

“I think we can create in excess of 2,000 jobs in the whole Food Enterprise Zone, which extends to just under 100 acres and straddles Broadland and South Norfolk, so both districts stand to gain.”

The initial 46 acres of the project is covered by a Local Development Order (LDO) granted by Broadland District Council, which means food-related businesses meeting agreed criteria will be able to build without the need for extra planning consent. A similar area has been earmarked for the next phase, which would require a separate LDO to be agreed with South Norfolk Council.

Mr Alston said he expects the first companies to be constructing on the initial section of the site by next summer.

“We are at ‘heads of terms’ with a significant company, which means their solicitors and our solicitors are looking at the documents which will be signed in the near future,” he said. “We have a number of other businesses who are expressing interest as well.

“They can buy freehold, they can lease, or we will also consider a design-build whereby we put a building up and lease the finished product.”

Mr Alston said other stakeholders in the project include Easton and Otley College, which he purchased land from in a deal including a covenant to ensure the college will benefit financially from the development.

Nick Dunn, a partner at property agency Brown and Co, which is marketing the site, said: “This really is an exciting project. The fast-track planning process afforded by the LDO means occupiers can get up and running quickly, and the FEP will resonate with a huge range of occupiers, from small young businesses all the way up to large established organisations. The scale of the site means we can offer plots to accommodate from 5,000 to 500,000sq ft on freehold or leasehold terms.”

ACCESS ISSUES

The commercial launch of the Food Enterprise Park means infrastructure planning is also under way – which has reignited the traffic concerns of nearby villagers.

In the longer term, the intended entrance to the site would be from a new roundabout off the A47, after long-anticipated dualling work is completed.

But in the meantime, plans to modify Church Lane in Easton to act as a temporary access point have been opposed by residents in Easton, where objections to the original FEP proposals included concerns of country lanes becoming dangerously busy with commercial traffic.

Peter Milliken, chairman of Easton Parish Council, said: “We are not against the food hub if it is done right. But there are still a lot of questions over the LDO, and nothing should go forward on that site until they have sorted the conditions on the road.

“The road is not suitable for this volume and size of vehicles, and they are looking at the cheap option to put in passing points. They will be moving lots of heavy vehicles around the bend near the church, which would be unsafe and a major disruption to the setting of St Peter’s.

“If they spent a bit of money on putting the entrance off Blind Lane, and putting in a slip road from the A47, that would be a much more sensible approach because, long-term, that is the area where they want to be coming in.”

Landowner Ian Alston said Church Lane will only carry a small proportion of the eventual site traffic, and only until a planned roundabout on the dualled A47 replaces it as the site entrance.

“There has been concern locally, but the amount of traffic we will be generating prior to the new access coming on stream will be a very small proportion of the potential of the site,” he said.

“The earliest anybody will be active on the site is late 2019, and the highways authority says this dualling of the A47 will start in 2021/22 and should be done by 2024. So it is a maximum of five years that this road will be in use, and we may only have 10pc of the site active before the new road comes in.

“This surge of lorries people are talking about coming towards Easton is highly unlikely.

“As a condition of the LDO we have had to pay for a legally-binding routing agreement, which states that once the improvements are in place we will cease using Church Lane for access to the FEP.”


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