Invest in Gloucestershire supports the Royal Agricultural University’s launch of their £100m Innovation Village vision

25 January 2023

A concept for a sustainable, carbon neutral, Innovation Village which will be home to a community of entrepreneurs, policymakers, practitioners, and researchers committed to addressing the major global challenges we all face has been unveiled by the Royal Agricultural University.

Invest in Gloucestershire and GFirst LEP have been instrumental in supporting the concept facilitating its launch to international markets and the local business community.

The proposed £100m development, on a 29-acre site at the University’s Cirencester campus, is central to the RAU’s vision and aims to support industry, food producers, farmers and landowners in developing sustainable solutions for healthy land and nature, food production, and resilience in rural communities.

Outlining the concept at the launch event, RAU Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter McCaffery said: “A first for Gloucestershire – and indeed the UK – we are delighted to be working with Cotswold District Council, GFirst LEP, Gloucestershire County Council, and the Department for International Trade to establish a rural Innovation Village here at the RAU, the UK’s global agricultural university.

“The £100m project, will turbo-charge SME agri-tech enterprise activity with a distinctively rural feel. We anticipate we will increase the RAU’s current contribution of £52m to the local and regional economy by half as much again over five years when the project is up and running.”

The site will comprise a number of integrated areas including a Research and Innovation centre, live/work residential units, business start-up and support spaces, as well as business and conferencing hospitality facilities.

A cluster development of this nature, applied to agriculture, food and land management, does not exist in the UK and gives the proposed Innovation Village the opportunity to impact globally, addressing issues such as climate change, sustainable land use and food production, biodiversity loss and heritage management.

The initiative, which has a GDV of between £80m and £100m and already has the support of the Department of International Trade (DIT), Gloucestershire County Council, and GFirst LEP, will provide a rural complement to the proposed developments in the urban core of the county such as The Golden Valley Development in Cheltenham and Kings Quarter/The Forum in Gloucester. In addition, there will be benefits to the prosperity and productivity of rural communities, locally and regionally.

The RAU is committed to ensuring that the Innovation Village will push the boundaries of sustainable design to ensure a development that is beautiful, carbon neutral, rich in nature, and inspires innovation through its environment, and has employed Architype, the leading Passivhaus Architect with more than 30 years’ experience, to lead the design process.

Dame Fiona Reynolds, Chair of the RAU’s Governing Council, said: “As well as benefiting the Royal Agricultural University, as a global centre for the future of sustainable farming and food production, this will also benefit the people of Cirencester and other local communities.

“We are determined that the Innovation Village will be green and beautiful and, importantly, led by the landscape which inspires us daily. It will reflect our core values as well as inspire intellectual, community, and collaborative working.”

Ruth Dooley, Chair of GFirst LEP, presented the event. She said: “This mixed-use scheme, adding to the RAU’s reputation as a global centre of excellence in agriculture, food and land management, will be a major boost to the economic development of Gloucestershire. 

“Through fostering the emergence of new start-up companies and supporting the growth of scale-ups, as well as being a magnet for inward investment from elsewhere in the UK and overseas, this exciting Innovation Village will provide many new job opportunities across a range of subjects. It will also help in the delivery of new skills needed to tackle the challenges of food security and sustainable land management.

“Our Inward Investment Team will work closely with the RAU and partners to secure new tenants for this exciting venture whilst our Growth Hub Team will provide a range of services to the new and growing SMEs within this new community.”

Dame Fiona added: “The RAU has a proven track record of delivering development projects for innovation and enterprise in agriculture. The Alliston Centre, which was built in 2016 and houses the RAU’s Farm491 – the leading agri-technology incubator and accelerator facility in the country which has helped more than 200 businesses generate £33m in investment and created more than 120 jobs - really paved the way for this Innovation Village concept.”

It is hoped that, in the first five years of operation, the new Innovation Village will double the current new business output of Farm491 and the Growth Hub as well as providing skills, training, employment and affordable housing, targeted towards improving retention of 16 to 24yr olds.

The launch event was very well received with key figures from the Gloucestershire political, business and community attending the event and reviewing the concept plans and participating in a Q&A session at the end of the presentation.  The Invest in Gloucestershire team will continue to work closely with the Innovation Village project team and will be promoting the opportunity far and wide to the global investor market.

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