MORE than £4M will be spent delivering a new base for Chard businesses to help off-set the loss of a major employer.
Somerset County Council intends to build a new enterprise centre on the Beeching Close industrial estate, a short distance from the town’s recycling centre.
The facility will provide much-needed space for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), attracting new businesses to Chard and providing support for existing employers.
The facility will be a short distance from the Oscar Mayer factory on the A358 Furnham Road, which is currently up for sale.
A total of £4,064,345 has budgeted for the new enterprise centre, which will be built on council-owned land at an undisclosed area on Beeching Close.
Of this, the council will be providing £2,203,879, as well as £110,000 being provided in kind as the value of the land.
The remaining £1,750,466 will be provided by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).
Harry Morris, the council’s economic development officer, said the first phase of the site would deliver 591 sq m of employment space, with the potential for further expansion in the years ahead if demand required it.
He said: “The £1.75M ERDF investment we have secured will boost the economy with an estimated 58 full-time jobs over a period of ten years for the local economy.
“The work completed in the initial phases will unlock the site for further development in the future.
“The scheme will support the economic development of Chard and has been developed to address the recent economic impacts of the loss of Oscar Mayer in the town’s economy, which will result in 885 jobs being lost this year– equivalent to circa 15 per cent of jobs in the town.”
South Somerset District Council has resisted calls by local Green Party members to turn the Oscar Mayer site into a “multi-use centre” with a school, GP surgery and low-cost homes.
It stated in July it has no plans to purchase the site either as part of its ongoing Chard regeneration scheme or its commercial investment strategy – where the rent from properties it holds are used to fund front-line services.
The county council has a growing network of enterprise centres across Somerset, which are intended to provide affordable workspace in areas where such resources have been difficult to secure commercially.
In addition to providing space, the network also offers businesses professional advice and support, including help with grant funding applications.
Mr Morris added: “Chard currently is under-served in its needs and demands for workspace and business support.
“This will help to address this issue and provide space locally, which is expected to have a positive impact on the need for businesses to travel away from the area.”
The most recent addition to the network, Bruton Enterprise Centre, will officially open its doors in November, providing ten small offices, two meeting rooms, one large studio space and seven small light industrial units.
Subject to planning permission, construction on the new Chard centre could begin within the next six months.