AN INVESTMENT of more than £1.3 billion in the Edinburgh and South-East Scotland economy has signalled the green light for a food and drink innovation park in Musselburgh.

The new facility, which will be located at Queen Margaret University (QMU), is expected to bring nearly 1,000 new jobs to the area in the first phase alone.

It is being provided as part of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, which has been welcomed by both the university and East Lothian Council.

Funding of £600 million from the UK and Scottish Governments has been confirmed which, when taken together with contributions from partners, will result in an investment of more than £1.3 billion in the economy of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland region.

Government funding of £30 million, being made available through the deal, will contribute towards the development of Edinburgh Innovation Park on land next to the university campus – a joint development by East Lothian Council and QMU.

This will allow expansion of the university’s existing Scottish Centre for Food Development & Innovation and will also provide flexible commercial space for small and medium-sized businesses in the food and drink sector.

Businesses will have ready access to the university’s expertise in the healthy food and drink product market, including the development of new leading-edge functional foods and reformulation of existing products.

The innovation hub is expected to act as a catalyst for the further development of an innovation park, based broadly around the theme of food and drink, on a 52-acre site close to the campus.

The innovation park will form part of a wider development of the land around the campus which will include a retail, leisure, and food and beverage commercial zone, as well as up to 1,500 new homes, 375 of which will be affordable, and a new primary school.

The full development is expected to attract nearly £400 million of private sector funding over a period of about 20 years.

Professor Petra Wend, university principal, said: “The ability to set the university at the heart of a major hub for economic development in East Lothian, based around the university’s expertise in food and drink, was one of the key factors which influenced the university’s decision to relocate to East Lothian in 2007.

“The offer of city region deal funding will now allow the university, working in partnership with East Lothian Council, to move forward with these plans, which are expected to bring almost 1,000 new jobs to the area in the first phase alone.

“The additional development planned on the land around the university campus, including the construction of new housing, will mean that the university will become part of a vibrant new community within the county.”

Other elements of the deal benefiting East Lothian include: a focus on developing skills and reducing barriers to employment; support for an expanded affordable housing programme with a specific focus on the Blindwells new town; and improvements to the City of Edinburgh Bypass and Sheriffhall roundabout.

Councillor Norman Hampshire, depute council leader, said: “Growing the East Lothian economy and supporting local jobs is one of our top priorities as a council. That’s why we’re delighted with the signing of the city region deal.

“A huge amount of work has gone into developing and finalising a deal and one which is good news for the county. It’s an excellent example of working together, with local authorities and partners such as QMU to secure a significant package of investment.

“The Food and Drink Innovation Campus will support innovation and quality in the food and drink industry. A project of this nature is highly appropriate in Scotland’s food and drink county and we look forward to continuing to work closely with the university in taking the wider development forward.

“Complementing the deal, a regional employability and skills programme will deliver better outcomes for all the region and particularly those people facing significant disadvantages to securing and sustaining meaningful, high quality employment.

“Improvements to the City of Edinburgh Bypass and Sheriffhall roundabout will also have a positive effect on East Lothian’s economy by improving our transport links to Edinburgh and beyond.

“We will also directly benefit from an expanded affordable housing programme, with a specific focus on Blindwells, which will help to address the shortage of affordable homes we are facing.

“This will allow more young people to continue to live and work in East Lothian and encourage more people to live and work here, building both our communities and our economy.”