1 March 2002

RASEs enterprising plan

By Isabel Davies

THE Royal Agricultural Society of England is seeking farmers views on plans to pump £50m-£100m into developing its Stoneleigh Park base into a National Centre for Rural Enterprise.

The ambitious plan would involve the creation of new, year-round visitor attractions based on the themes of food and the countryside as well as a rural science and technology business park.

It would also involve the development of an international centre of excellence for the livestock centre, an equine centre with a new world-class indoor arena and rural education centre.

The aim is to transform the campus into an international centre of excellence for all involved with agriculture, land and rural resource management.

The park would continue to play host to high-profile events like the Royal Show, Town and Country Festival and other national and international technical events.

Mike Calvert, RASE chief executive, said the organisation believed the site was a national asset which should be developed for the benefit of the sector.

"This initiative will enable Stoneleigh to realise its potential and provide an important national resource for all involved in rural Britain," he said. The change would reflect the fact that although farming would continue to be the principal economic driver in rural Britain, areas like tourism, food businesses and leisure would grow in importance, he said.

But the RASE was "hell-bent on staying an agricultural show society", he insisted.

Mr Calvert said the creation of a visitor attraction would help generate income and engage the public in issues of importance to the farming industry.

But he added: "We are not wanting to create a theme park or funfair or anything like that. That would be the easy option but we dont want to do that. Thats not what we are about."

The RASE believes EU funds can be accessed to pay for many of the changes but it could also be looking for money from government and other stakeholders.

It has issued a discussion paper on its proposals and is keen for farmers and other stakeholders to make their views known. It has already sent out 500 copies of a prospectus to interested parties.

There will be a more detailed launch of the project at the Royal Show from July 1-4, 2002.

It is estimated the plan will take 10 years to complete, although the main elements could be in place within three years. &#42

The skys the limit… The RASE believes Stoneleigh Park has enormous potential for development.