EUROPEAN Union support is being given to an ambitious £17m Inverkip whisky distillery project that could create around 30 jobs.

The Ardgowan Distillery Company said the EU’s ‘Leader’ programme is pumping in an undisclosed amount to help pay for designing a visitor centre.

Distillery chief executive Martin McAdam says the project will provide a welcome economic boost for the area.

Mr McAdam said: “Inverclyde has tremendous tourism potential, yet it performs very poorly compared with other areas in Scotland.

“We’d like to help change this.

“At present, Inverclyde has the lowest number of food and drinks businesses of any local authority area in Scotland, and as a consequence has very low levels of food and drink employment.

“Ardgowan Estate is less than an hour’s drive from Glasgow, and last year Greenock welcomed more than 100,000 cruise ship visitors, so I believe there is a great opportunity to capture this market with a first-class food and drink tourist experience.

“We estimate the distillery and visitor centre will create up to 30 new jobs within five years.”

The financial support being ploughed in comes from the Greater Renfrewshire and Inverclyde part of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development programme.

Mr McAdam said: “I’d like to thank the team at Leader for awarding us this grant.

“It is important to build investor confidence in Inverclyde as a place to do business. The Leader funds will help the distillery produce a clear design concept for the visitor centre, which will bring together several design experts at this early stage to formulate a cohesive plan.

“This will result in a much more comprehensive and realistic detailed design that we will take through to a phase two project.”

In addition to producing a lowland single malt, the site will also have a gin still and a microbrewery, and serve as a tourist attraction through tours, its café, and retail facilities.

Construction will start later this year, and the site will be operational by 2019.

The latest news has been welcomed by Sir Ludovic Shaw-Stewart, owner of Ardgowan Estate, who is currently renovating Ardgowan House, less than a kilometre from the distillery.

He said: “I really hope that Ardgowan becomes an important part of the Inverclyde tourist experience.

“The estate has an extraordinary 600-year history, and I believe Ardgowan House and the visitor centre will become a tourist magnet for Glasgow day-trippers and cruise ship passengers from around the world.

“Together we will create jobs and bring new tourists to the area.”