The Royal Bath & West of England Society has already secured £120m in funding to transform its 97ha (240-acre) Somerset showground into a major visitor destination.
The showground is in need of modernisation after almost 45 years without significant investment, and recently lost the Smithfield Show contract. But it is now set to become an important tourist attraction featuring hotels, a countryside shopping centre and an exhibition centre.
Over the next 12-15 years the society hopes to generate more than 1500 new jobs and create the UK’s first energy self-sufficient showground. “We want to transform the showground and create a vibrant, high-quality events venue of a national standard,” said chief executive Jane Guise. “Financial success resulting from development will be spent on supporting the rural economy in perpetuity.”
Capital gains from the venture will be split 15:85 in favour of the society, and profits will be reinvested into aging showground facilities.
“We have done an awful lot of work already, and at the very best we would hope to get planning permission in early 2010,” said Richard Froggatt, chairman of London & Wharfedale. At worst he expected to attain permission by the end of 2010.
“When we looked at the contribution the showground was already making to the local economy, we thought there was something really solid that we could build on.” In 2005, the showground generated at least £164m for the UK economy, and in 2006 the Bath & West Show attracted the largest attendance for any agricultural show in England.
“We want to make the showground a compelling, year-round visitor destination with a national profile,” said Mr Froggatt. “It would no longer be vulnerable to bad weather or diseases in farming, but would support and complement agricultural and rural industries, showcasing the best of the region and stimulating the regional economy.”