A £54.7m funding announcement has been hailed as a "major step forward" for plans to build a world-leading plant science hub on the edge of Norwich.

The John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory are jointly working on the development of a state-of-the-art new centre for microbial and crop science on the Norwich Research Park.

The £388m Next Generation Infrastructure (NGI) project aims to tackle the major global challenges of "climate change, net zero agriculture, food security and human health".

And it received a major funding boost after becoming one of 23 infrastructure projects included in the latest investment announcement from UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

The proposed funding of £54.7m over the next three years is the first tranche of £317.7m being sought from government sources over nine years.

Although the investment is still subject to business case approval, John Innes Centre director Prof Dale Sanders said he was "delighted" to see the cutting-edge new facilities included in the UKRI Infrastructure Fund budget allocation.

"Securing this funding will be a major step forward for our ambitious plans to create a world-leading hub for plant and microbial sciences in Norwich to tackle major global challenges of climate change, net zero agriculture, food security and human health," he said.

The John Innes Centre says the investment would kick-start a "step-change in the capability to address research challenges" including genetic crop improvement strategies, reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and understanding plant-microbe interactions to develop clinical treatments to improve human health.

Prof Nick Talbot, executive director of The Sainsbury Laboratory, said the funding allocation "shows confidence in the future of our research institutes and their ability to transform global agriculture through innovation".

"In the face of the climate emergency, it is imperative that agricultural production is transformed to become a net carbon-zero activity that no longer relies on fossil fuels.

"The proposed investment will allow us to harness the collaborative environment on the Norwich Research Park, catalysing new research initiatives and creating a unique asset for UK science.”

The project is still at consultation stage, ahead of a formal planning application.