HUNDREDS of jobs could be created at an innovation centre which aims to turn Yorkshire’s textile heartland into a miniature version of silicon valley.
Businessman Alan Lewis, who is a vice chairman of the Conservative Party, said the new innovation centre in the Colne Valley, near Huddersfield, was part of a crusade to nurture entrepreneurs.
He hoped the new hub, based inside mills which have been empty since 2006, could support around 40 businesses.
Mr Lewis, who is chairman of the Hartley Group, said: “It will bring innovation in Yorkshire into one hub.”
The plans to develop a multi-million innovation centre in Slaithwaite have been approved by Kirklees councillors. The project is a partnership between the Hartley Group, the international technology company 3M, and the University of Huddersfield. With the University of Huddersfield as a shareholder, the Globe Innovation Centre will also benefit from links to the 3M Buckley Innovation Centre, which has been established to support hi-tech businesses.
Entrepreneurs who decide to establish a base in the new hub in Slaithwaite, could be supported by funding from Hartley and 3M. The development will provide extra space for the university’s 3M Buckley Innovation Centre, a £12m hub which is around 90 per cent full.
Mr Lewis said: “I have been an investor in Yorkshire my whole life.
“I am very passionate about regenerating the industrial base of Yorkshire and creating employment. This project will create a centre of excellence for innovation and enterprise which will be a beacon in Europe.”
Speaking in support of the application, Professor Bob Cryan, the Vice Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield, told councillors: “Hartley and 3M are international companies who could choose to invest anywhere in the world... but at this time of restricted global liquidity they and the university have committed to a project that will lead to both urban and economic regeneration in the Yorkshire region.
“This is a fantastic opportunity, and through my role as chairman of the Business Innovation Growth Panel for the Leeds City Region, I know first-hand there are areas that would jump at the investment presented here today.”
He added: “We are creating new entrepreneurs who will be the future of Yorkshire. If people have got innovative ideas, we can bring them into a hub. We’re going to mentor them and provide finance for them. The response we have had has been phenomenal.”
According to Mr Lewis, innovation is the right vehicle for regeneration. With the university’s support, the centre could become a focal point for innovation in Europe, he said.
Mr Lewis added: “The university is very keen to promote entrepreneurs, as am I. Slaithwaite is a great area between Leeds and Manchester... it has a silicon valley ambience. You have got to give some kudos to people who make things.”
The Hartley Group’s plans for two large buildings at Globe Mills next to the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at Slaithwaite, include the creation of an innovation centre to support small and growing enterprises, primarily in the technology sector. The company also wants to use the buildings as the headquarters of clothing company Crombie, which is owned by the Hartley Group.
The scheme also includes space for retail use, a nursery, cafe, offices, gallery space, a new parking deck and a footbridge linking the mills and another footbridge over the canal. Councillors approved the plans unanimously.
However, village group Keep Slaithwaite Special (KSS) produced a report which claimed the retail aspect of the scheme could damage the vitality of the village centre.
The group previously opposed plans for an Aldi supermarket in the village centre but the application was granted.
The council received five letters in support of the plans and five against. A report by council planning officers concluded that the proposals would improve Slaithwaite’s retail offer “and therefore it is likely that the developments would result in increased levels of expenditure being retained in the area”.
“This could assist the centre as a whole by improving the attractiveness of the centre and through the creation of linked trips.”
In its planning submission to the council, Hartley Group said the area is already an established centre for sustainable technology with 45 businesses in this sector operating within 15 miles of Globe Mills.
The developer expects the Globe Innovation Centre to grow this sector by up to 50 per cent.