A PIONEERING centre aims to set up hundreds of new businesses in the Huddersfield area over the coming years.

The University Of Huddersfield is now setting up a £12m Enterprise and Innovation Centre on the campus – and the aim is that it will be the home for up to 100 businesses involved in science and technology.

The businesses there will be able to tap into the university’s main science laboratories to use the equipment – some costing hundreds of thousands of pounds – and expertise.

The hope then is that as these businesses prosper and grow they will move out of the centre and on to business and industrial parks in the area to provide more jobs for local people.

The scheme began yesterday when work officially started on the Firth Street site and will incorporate the Grade II former Larchfield mills. It is due to open next May.

Half of the funding, £6.4m, has come from the European Regional Development Fund with £1.2m from Kirklees Council and the rest from the university.

The centre for innovative entrepreneurs and ambitious small companies is the brainchild of the University’s Director of Research and Enterprise, Dr Liz Towns-Andrews and Huddersfield entrepreneur Graham Leslie who built up pharmaceutical firm Galpharm International into a massive business.

Dr Towns-Andrews said: “This is all about harnessing the intellectual power of the university and get staff and students along with others to start businesses to provide work for both future graduates and local people.

“We are talking about high technology industries that will get back-up from within the university and the kind of facilities new businesses normally don’t have access to.”

She added: “We see this as an ‘incubation’ process for businesses and we are already looking for space around the region where these businesses can grow.

“We need to get companies on to these business and industrial parks and this is one way to do it. The centre can take up to 100 businesses which will be created over the next couple of years.

“The centre will be an enterprise hub with spokes coming out of it which may well reach overseas so even international businesses can use it as a base to operate from in Europe.’’

Kirklees Council leader Clr Mehboob Khan said: “This is a truly ground-breaking project with long-term benefits for the entire area leading to more employment opportunities for local people.

“The council is very much committed to growing the local economy and jobs and the Enterprise and Innovation Centre will help small businesses to become medium-sized businesses and the support from the university makes it a first of its kind.

“The next stage is for the council to have the land available for these businesses once they have outgrown their space in the centre.”

University Vice Chancellor Professor Bob Cryan added: “This old Larchfield building was an industrial premises for many decades and was pioneering at its time. Now it is pioneering again to meet the needs of the modern age.

“Politicians talk a lot about re-balancing the economy and encouraging new, high-tech industry and enterprise.

“Well, we’re doing something practical about it.

“This centre will be the place where the innovation that results from the research conducted at our university meets up with the enterprise to be found in the region’s business community.

“It will be a forum for ideas, new developments and technical breakthroughs, but it will also have a direct role in economic regeneration, because businesses will actually be based here.”

One of the first in there will be the National Physical Laboratory which is the UK’s National Measurement Institute and is a world-leading centre of excellence in developing and applying the most accurate measurement standards, science and technology.