A pioneering food park development in mid-Devon is under threat from government red tape, leaving the region at great risk of higher unemployment and unsustainable food chains.
The £27m South-West Food Park, planned for a 9ha (22-acre) site at Junction 27 of the M5, near Tiverton, would host a range of food businesses, from processing and storage to distribution.
If approved it would dramatically cut the distance food has to travel from farm to plate, boost farmers’ returns and provide local employment for up to 500 people.
“We have got to cut back on food miles, and we need to sustain rural communities,” said Jim Paice, shadow agriculture minister, at a hastily arranged press briefing last Friday.
“To do that we need to have this sort of development.”
The proposal has spent three years going through local enquiry procedures, and now forms part of Mid-Devon District Council’s local plan, which must be adopted by 22 July.
However, government office south-west has blocked the plan pending a decision on whether to call it in for a further enquiry.
“If we haven’t adopted a local plan by 22 July it will make life very difficult,” said Simon Thornley, senior planning office at MDDC.
“We don’t have time to change the plan, and if we are directed to delete the site we will be less able to meet Tiverton’s employment needs.”
This would be a particular blow following 400 job losses at Lloyd Maunder, 2 Sisters Food Group and Global Aircare in the past nine months.
Developer Malcom Dudley-Williams of the Devon Natural Food Company said he wanted to meet with GOSW to discuss any concerns they had about the location of the site.
“Sadly, they won’t give a reason for their objection and won’t discuss anything with us.
“There is real demand from businesses and consumers, yet without strategic investment and infrastructure like the food park, government targets for food miles and reducing carbon emissions, as well as the creation of a sustainable food and farming industry, are unlikely to be met.”
GOSW refused to comment on details of the plan.