Ambitious moves to create a Fleetwood fish and food park could be just the beginning of exciting developments in the town.
Confirmation that the fish park has been granted £2.5m of Regional Growth Fund (RGF) money from the Government has led to hopes that Fleetwood’s dockland can be regenerated.
With Government money assured and the fish park plans now set to press ahead, the proposals for Fleetwood’s fish processors to re-locate to land south of the docks could spell new development on the sites these businesses will leave behind.
Fleetwood MP Eric Ollerenshaw says the fish park is just one element in the massive potential of Fleetwood’s dockland.
Mr Ollerenshaw said: “It is excellent news that the fish and food park has got this RGF money, but it means even more than a fish park alone.
“It is also about the regeneration of the whole area and the plans for the docks.
“This could spark a regeneration of the existing fish dock and Siding Road together with enabling our fish processors a chance to expand and build on their existing successful businesses.
“Clearly there is a lot more to do but now at least there is money on the table.”
The fish park plans are being developed by Reform Energy at the energy plant, which will provide power for the fish park, and there could be up to 150 new jobs on the fish park side.
There are hopes that the Government cash - described as “seed money” because it can unlock further investment - can kickstart other things.
Associated British Ports (ABP), which owns both the site of the new fish park and the fish docks, would not be drawn this week on its long term plans for the docks.
But Coun Pete Murphy, Wyre Council’s economy portfolio holder, says the latest developments can lead to Fleetwood becoming a magnet for new businesses – and with it, new jobs.
He said: “Some 12 months ago the council was looking to see if a budget hotel group would be interested in coming to Fleetwood, but there was little response.”
One option is that there could be a mixed-use development on land by the fish docks which would see shops, restaurants and cafes overlooking the dock, in addition to office space and further homes.
Coun Emma Anderton, a Fleetwood Labour councillor, said she would cautiously welcome any new developments on the dock, but only if it brought quality jobs with decent pay.
She said: “It would be good to see that land put to good use, but if there were to be mainly service industry jobs, they are not that well paid.
“I would still say that before Fleetwood can make the most of its potential, we need a better transport link in and out of the town. ”
Fish park ready to run by 2017
Fleetwood’s fish and food park is expected to be ready by early 2017, the developer says.
It is hoped that work on the facility can start in March next year, now that the Government has agreed to provided A crucial £2.5m through its Regional Growth Fund (RGF)
The project will see the town’s already thriving fish processing and selling businesses re-locate from their current premises – many of them dilapidated – to a new state-of-the art fish park.
Also re-locating from its warehouse next to the fish dock will be the current fish auction hall. The site for the fish park, which is owned by Associated British Ports, is located on land south of the docks, close to the Fisherman’s Friend factory.
The whole project is linked in with the building by Reform Energy plc of a £60m energy recovery plant, being built on adjacent land at the same time, and which will provide energy for the fish park’s refrigeration systems.
Although the Government cash will allow the building of the fish park, additional funding for it is coming from Reform Energy, which is developing it and will also manage the facility.
Fleetwood MP Eric Ollerenshaw said: “The RGF grant effectively unlocks everything else, without this money it would not be happening, so I am delighted we got it.
“What happens next is that Reform will finalise their designs for the energy plant and its link with the park, and then make preparations to start building them both.
“In the meantime there will be liaison with the fish firms to confirm which of them will be transferring to the new premises. It is likely that most of them will be coming on board. Then, Associated British Ports needs to sort what will be done with the land that is left after the firms have re-located. That land will be developed and we’re looking at massive redevelopment.”
Although the fish park has yet to be granted planning permission, the energy plant was given consent back in 2011.
John Potter, spokesman for Reform Energy, said: “We hope to have it all finished by around March 2017, if everything goes according to plan, ready to start operating.
“We have had planning permission for the plant for four years, so it has been quite frustrating having to wait so long. Getting this Government money was vital and we are just glad it has finally come through.”
Garry Payne, chief executive of Wyre Council which supported the cash bid, added: “Fleetwood is on a real roll when it comes to external funding, and this is another success. Wyre was successful in landing the £63m funding for Fleetwood sea wall, the £2.4m for the Memorial park, the £1.5m for the Sea Change and as a small authority we are punching above our weight.
“With the extra jobs which the fish park can create, and regeneration of the dockland, it can only be good for Fleetwood and Wyre.”
Paul Jervis, Port Manager, ABP North West, said: “This is an important step in Reform Energy’s plans for both the state of the art fish processing facility and the Energy Recovery Plant, which are key elements of the ongoing regeneration of the Port and maintaining these skilled jobs in Fleetwood.
“Fishing and fish processing is synonymous with the history of the town and the port and we are delighted to be working with Reform Energy.”
‘There is a lot more potential in the fishing industry’
The decision to award the cash for a fish park came following a key fact-finding visit to Fleetwood by Penny Mordaunt, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
The minister said she was highly impressed with the Fleetwood project’s potential and the way sectors of the community were already working together.
She said: “I think there’s obviously a tremendous history with trawling and all the industry that comes from the fishing industry here and we really want to see a renaissance in that.
“The funding (could) really unlock the potential of this site to upgrade the fish processing facilities here, but also unlock the full potential for other businesses to come in.”
Prime Minister David Cameron added: “Conservatives including Eric Ollerenshaw are backing businesses to create more jobs.”
Merchants and processors voice hopes for more jobs
Fish merchants and processors at Fleetwood have welcomed the green light for the town’s fish and food park - and hope it could mean more jobs.
An already thriving industry, which together employs around 600 people and generates £135m a year, sees a golden chance to improve premises and boost trade still further with a possible 150 new jobs estimated.
While there was some excitement at the news, many firms tempered their optimism with a note of caution; after all, they have been hearing about the fish park proposals for the past 10 years,
One business welcoming the news is shellfish exporter AM Seafood, based at Siding Road, which is confident of a jobs boost.
The company expanded its premises two years ago and took on extra staff, but now the company says trade is so strong it needs to extend its operation again.
The firm, which processes shellfish caught in the Irish Sea and exports to Europe and the Far East, says the plans provide a chance to grow still further.
With between 180 and 220 staff, depending on seasonal fluctuation, it is already a major employer, although on the catching side many of the Irish Sea boats are from North Wales, Whitehaven and the Isle of Man.
Scott Merrick, production director, said: “The fish park plans are welcome for several reasons.
“Firstly, the recycling of energy at the new power station fits in with our own plans to recycle waste.
“Secondly, we’re over-producing on the site we’re at, despite the expansion of the premises two years ago,
“Moving to a new site with more space will help us increase our exports and create new jobs.
“The potential at this new site is huge and will give us another lease of life, like the one we experienced two years ago.
“Our main focus is on modernisation and a new purpose-built fish park would help us acheive that.”
At the Midland Fish Company, based at the Fish Market down on the docks, partner Ken Hayton Jr said: “It’s fantastic news and just what the industry and Fleetwood needs.
“For companies to move forward they need modern facilities, ourselves included.
“What we have to do now is all pull together to make sure it does it happen, because it’s been a long time coming.”
The company employs 34 people in a business which prepares plaice, cod, haddock and salmon – brought in from Scotland and the Faroe Islands – and then exports it to a European market.
Asked how the plans would help Midland, Mr Hayton said: “Our current premises do limit us.
“If we wanted to bring down potential clients, we would be able to offer them so much more if we had more space and a better lay-out to show what we do. It would do our client base no harm at all.”
At Jack Wrights, on Herring Arm Road, head of sales Alan Wilson, said: “It can only be a good thing, it sounds like a good set up.
“In a new, more spacious building, we would have the room to diversify and that would mean extra business and hopefully more jobs.”
The company employs between 40 and 50 people, with salmon processing a large part of the business.
Mr Wilson added: “Now it is just a question of waiting to find out more about how the move will work in principle.”
And at a smaller business, Phoenix Fish, on Herring Arm Road, owner Wendy Pringle, said: “We are a smaller firm which employs just five people.
“Although it’s a win-win situation, we need to find out more about any extra costs involved because that would affect a business like ours more.
“If there are rises in rent, will that be offset by a competitive package on the electric and energy costs? We need to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.”
‘Market is a success that has not been won overnight’
The news of the funding for the fish market was welcomed by the Federation of Small Businesses.
Susanne Johnson, chairman of the organisation’s Blackpool and Wyre branch, said: “Hot on the heels of last week’s funding for Blackpool Illuminations comes this week’s welcome announcement that Fleetwood has been awarded £2.5m from the Regional Growth Fund to develop its fishing industry.
“Relocating the industry to new purpose-built facilities is sensible and will create new jobs, as well as freeing up an existing site for alternative usage.
“Well done to Wyre Council and the others involved for ensuring that our area gets this funding in a competitive bidding process.
“It is a success not won overnight and shows the benefit of persistence as well as having a sensible and value for money plan for economic growth.”