A MULTI-MILLION pound development at a famous chocolate factory site in York is due to be approved to help secure the future of the historic business and create hundreds of jobs.
The scheme to build homes, shops and offices on part of the Nestl site will bring nearly 600 jobs in a landmark project that has been in the pipeline for more than four years.
Grave concerns emerged in 2006 when Nestl announced that it was shedding more than 600 jobs from its workforce in York.
But the company allayed fears that it would eventually pull out of the city completely, and has since invested more than 30m in creating new facilities in York.
While the production of Smarties, Black Magic and Dairy Box was moved overseas, the York factory still makes Kit Kats, Aeros, Polos, Milky Bars and Yorkies.
The re-development of the southern half of the site will help the firm invest further in its York operations, and is seen as key to safeguarding the future of the remaining 1,800 employees.
York Council leader Andrew Waller said the project was one of regional importance which would bring much-needed affordable housing.
Coun Waller, who used to work in the chocolate firm's research and development unit, added: "Economically, the re-development of the Nestl site is hugely important, not just for York but for the region as a whole.
"It will not only safeguard the existing jobs, it will also create a major boost for employment.
"I am in a regular dialogue with Nestl about the investment it is looking to bring into York, and this scheme forms a major part of the company's future plans."
The development would see some of the existing buildings converted into 46 two-bedroom flats, along with accommodation for 100 students.
A total of 166 two, three and four-bedroom homes would be built as well as a 55-bedroom care facility for the elderly.
Nearly 108,000 sq ft of office space and more than 10,000 sq ft of retail space is also due to be created.
York Council's planning committee is expected to give the go-ahead for the development on Thursday after officers recommended the proposals for approval.
Council officials have estimated that the development would create about 585 full-time jobs.
Once planning permission has been secured, Nestl confirmed that it will begin the task of finding a developer to buy the land and take on the ambitious scheme.
The York site has been associated with the manufacture of confectionery since 1890, and the planning application is centred on buildings which were developed up until 1940.
As well as housing one of the world's biggest confectionery factories, Nestl York now incorporates logistics and distribution facilities serving the company's UK food and bevera ges businesses along with a global research and development centre.
The loss of the 645 jobs in September 2006 was another hammer blow to York's traditional manufacturing sector after the Terry's chocolate factory shut the previous year.
More than 300 jobs were lost with the closure of the Terry's
site as the company also enforced a major international restructuring with production moved abroad.
However, Nestl has since invested 15m in a new Aero factory at its York site, while a further 15m is being spent on revamping the wafer ovens used to produce Kit Kats. The company has invested 150m in the York site since it bought Rowntree in 1988.
A Nestl spokesman said: "We have worked very hard with the council and relevant parties to put together a winning plan for the city."