A MULTI-million pound state-of-the-art tourism and food hub which could help revitalise an historic docks and save the eel industry has been given the green light.
Severn and Wye Smokery owner Richard Cook’s plan to relocate his business to the derelict Pine End Works site beside Lydney’s harbour was backed by Forest Council planning members, despite conservation concerns over its possible impact on a neighbouring Grade II-listed house.
Mr Cook has already demolished the redundant factory buildings, where plane parts were built during the Second World War.
And his scheme to build a salmon processing factory, a fish market and an eel farm as part of a tourism attraction, complete with a 188-seat restaurant, a cafe, a visitor centre and staff accommodation was resoundingly backed at last week’s planning committee meeting.
Alongside an ongoing £2.1m scheme to spruce up the docks and improve traffic links from the town, it is hoped the development will revitalise the fortunes of the docks area and turn it into a major attraction.
Mr Cook also told councillors that it would help save the British eel industry from the “catastrophic” impact of Brexit, which alongside Covid-19 has impacted his own global business which he built over 30 years into a £53m enterprise.
The plans submitted in 2019 include a 20,885m sq salmon processing plant, an 8,000m sq eel farm and shops in a market hall setting.
It will see new pedestrian, cycle and vehicle accesses on to Harbour Road and a network of internal routes, parking areas, landscaping and planting, two environmentally friendly water treatment lagoons, an on-site power plant and generator, and a renewable solar energy supply.
The 11.81 hectare site is wholly owned by the parent company of global food exporter Severn and Wye Ltd – Olsa Futures Ltd – which wants to transfer the bulk of the producer’s business from its four current sites in Chaxhill, Minsterworth, Salisbury and Grimsby.
Cllr Claire Vaughan (Ind), who backed the scheme with fellow Lydney ward members Cllr James Bevan (Ind) and Cllr AIan Preest, said it would draw in other businesses to the docks area, creating jobs.
Cllr Lynn Sterry (Lab, Cinderford West) said she was “thrilled to bits” to finally see the scheme moving forward.
Cllr Simon Phelps (Ind, Westbury-on-Severn), who represents the Chaxhill area where the smokery’s main base is currently located, said: “The Severn and Wye Smokery has demonstrated it is a valuable and prestigious business within the Forest of Dean with great international credentials.”
Alison Moss of the neighbouring 17th century Naas House opposed the 20-building development, saying it would blight the setting of the listed building and make it “uninhabitable”.
She also claimed the business model was flawed due to the impact of Brexit and Covid-19 on UK fishing.
But Mr Cook said EU clients were still ordering from his smokery, and bringing things together at the Pine End works made more sense than having split sites.
Mr Cook said: “The Brexit deal negotiated on behalf of the British eel industry is a disaster. Access to the EU market for our locally caught glass eels has been refused, leaving our local fishery with no market and no future.
“We also know that in this coming season we will have no European customers for our eels. The Severn and Wye will no longer be able to import farmed eels from the EU and will have to rely on a local wild eel fishery which does not have the capacity to supply the volume we require.
“Our proposed adult eel farm is the only sustainable solution to underwrite the future of our unique glass eel fishery. This site could become the number one producer in the UK.”
A statement to planners said: “This proposal represents an investment in the Forest of Dean economy running into the scores of millions of pounds which will secure the long-term future of the Severn and Wye Smokery in the district as well as around 240 jobs.”
The buildings will be energy efficient and the process building and eel farm will both have roof-mounted solar panels, alongside an energy centre to provide power to the site.
Owing to the amount of water needed, the firm said “an important company objective is to clean and recycle as much water as possible. This includes the provision of two water treatment lagoons, (which) will use the same low carbon approach as the highly successful lagoon at the Chaxhill site.”
The current premises on the side of the A48 will be used for smoking cheese and other foods, which will be sold at the new market hall.
Planning officials said that although Historic England and the council’s conservation officers had raised concerns over the impact on Naas House, the harm caused was “less than substantial”.
Officers were given delegated authority to pass the plan once a travel plan had been agreed for the access road.
During World War II, Pine End Works supplied aircraft parts and was then used for timber production until it closed in 2001, falling into dereliction over the intervening years.
In 2007 it was used in the filming of the film Outlaw starring Sean Bean, Danny Dyer and Bob Hoskins.