It is nearly five years since the charity that owns the Royal Bath & West Showground at Shepton Mallet chose London & Wharfedale as development partner. The partners envisaged that nearly 20 acres of the showground would accommodate hotels, business space and a garden centre.
Ian Liddell-Grainger, Conservative MP for Bridgwater & West Somerset, lamented that it was as if the Archbishop of Canterbury had asked Simon Cowell for a makeover of the Church of England. Liddell-Grainger added that probably nothing would happen.
In this he was right. No occupier has signed up for the prestigious address, and a plan to coverpart of the site with photovoltaic panels was abandoned more than two years ago because of a change in tax breaks for such green energy schemes.
Mendip District Council, realising that the showground was ineligible to become an enterprise zone, commissioned Keith Thomas, founder of the PER consultancy, to create a do-it-yourself enterprise zone - legally possible under the Localism Act.
Christine Eade talks to Jenny Pitcher, Mendip’s senior development officer.
How will this initiative help the showground?
We can grant discretionary rate relief on new buildings. But we don’t want to create displacement from other areas. Local businesses will only get the relief if they uplift the size of their property by 30%.
Will there be a cap on the rate relief?
£55,000 over three years.
If this were an accepted enterprise zone, central government would reimburse you. How will you get the money back?
We won’t. We are foregoing this income. We think it is worth making this investment as a council, because unless anything is built it is hypothetical money anyway.
How will you speed up and simplify planning permission - permitted under enterprise zones?
We are hoping to have a local development order in place by July. It’s a way of getting planning permission in advance for B1, B2 and B8.
Who will take advantage of the homemade enterprise zone?
There is interest from food and drink companies.