Scotch whisky giant Diageo has thrown its weight behind plans to transform its former Johnnie Walker bottling plant in Kilmarnock into an “urban park” project that could create 1,000 permanent jobs.
As well as gifting 23 acres of land at the Hill Street site, Diageo will provide a £2 million grant that will be matched by East Ayrshire Council as it drives forward plans for the project, dubbed Halo. The local authority will also seek an extra £10m of financial support from the Scottish and UK governments through the Ayrshire Growth Deal.
Kilmarnock-based property developer Klin Group is spearheading the Halo scheme, which will feature an enterprise, engineering, manufacturing and textiles centre for small and medium-sized businesses, along with a 1,000-capacity education, conference and exhibition centre, a cultural hub and a year-round leisure and water sports facility.
Klin chair Marie Macklin said: “Kilmarnock deserves the very best for this iconic site and that is what we are setting out to deliver. We listened carefully to what the people of the town had to say and the Halo project will provide a fitting and sustainable legacy for the Hill Street site that will last for generations of Kilmarnock residents to come.”
Despite rallies by workers and political interventions, Diageo pressed ahead with the closure of its bottling plant at the site in 2012, ending a link which began in 1820 when John “Johnnie” Walker started selling the drink in his grocer’s shop in the town. The move led to 700 job losses.
Diageo has already gifted part of the former Hill Street plant – which closed in 2012 and has now been demolished – for the new Ayrshire College, which is due to open in the coming weeks.
David Cutter, the distiller’s president of global supply and procurement, said: “We are delighted to partner with East Ayrshire Council to support this regeneration proposal for Kilmarnock. Our ambition has always been to see this site redeveloped to the benefit of the local economy and community.
“Alongside the new college campus which is due to open soon at the site, we believe this regeneration plan will create a positive legacy for Kilmarnock and we hope it will gain the necessary support from the Ayrshire Growth Deal to make it a reality.”
Plans for the Halo scheme also include 3,000 square metres of office space, 175 affordable rented homes, a landscaped public plaza and an energy centre powering a district heating system.
Douglas Reid, leader of East Ayrshire Council, said: “These proposals are a key element of East Ayrshire Council’s ambitions for the Ayrshire Growth Deal and will greatly contribute to the regeneration of Kilmarnock, breathing new life into the remainder of site previously occupied by the Johnnie Walker bottling plant.”
Halo is one of a range of economic regeneration schemes being put forward by the local authority, alongside North and South Ayrshire Councils, for funding totalling £359m through the Ayrshire Growth Deal.