Enterprise Zones are a major economic boost to local areas bringing jobs, as businesses that move to Enterprise Zones pay no business rates for the first 5 years.
The effect of this business rate pull factor can be seen in the recent move of MMUK Flowers from Chatteris to the Enterprise Zone in Huntingdon.
The boost to a local economy is why Enterprise Zones are usually targeted at areas of higher deprivation. Norfolk did this with its first two being in Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. By contrast, Cambridgeshire opened its first Enterprise Zone in Huntingdon – one of the most prosperous districts in the country – and then split its second zone between five satellite sites around Cambridge – even though the City was already benefiting from a £1 billion City Deal and the Government guidance said preference should go to “rural areas”. The north of Cambridgeshire has been largely ignored by the LEP.
Earlier this year, I lobbied hard with Ministers in Government to ensure the third wave of Enterprise Zones included the North of Cambridgeshire. I was pleased when the Department of Business specifically name checked Fenland in its press release, stating that the third wave was expected to be “in the north of the county in areas like Fenland”.
This creates an open door for a Fenland bid for an Enterprise Zone which, as I previously suggested to the local Council, should link one site to the Wisbech Rail and Garden Town project (perhaps offsite construction given the housing needs of the county), and a second site in Chatteris for high precession engineering leveraging the growth potential of Metalcraft from its Nuclear Decommissioning work (which I offered to follow up with Sellafield bosses in the House of Commons).
Yet the Local Enterprise Partnership, which will decide on this locally, appears to have other ideas. Minutes from a recent Fenland council cabinet meeting on 13th July 2017 state that “(LEP) invited all northern-area Councils to meeting……..short list of suitable EZ sites across the northern LEP geography which would ensure a strategic fit across the region, aiming to complement, rather than compete with each respective Council’s strengths and ambitions”.
What this appears to suggest is that we should have Enterprise Zones split with Peterborough, Spalding and Kings Lynn. Whilst the LEP is called the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough LEP, it now oddly covers parts of five counties – despite a Government report in 2012 saying LEPs should not overlap.
In spite of this, the LEP prioritising Enterprise Zones outside Cambridgeshire should raise questions from Cambridgeshire County Councillors. The more material point is all three potential sites have far better transport links than Fenland. In addition, Peterborough is also benefiting from the multi-million pound University of Peterborough funding. Kings Lynn can also access New Anglia LEP funding in addition to the Cambridgeshire LEP and has also received ten times more agri-tech funding than Fenland, and Spalding also has access to its own Lincolnshire LEP funding.
The risk is that the competition between Enterprise Zones in the north of the county will not be a level playing field, with businesses able to move to Peterborough or Kings Lynn to get the benefit from the business rates that a Fenland site would also offer, but would also benefit from the transport links and other funding such as for skills at Peterborough University (also Opportunity Peterborough skills funding). So multiple sites across the north of the County risks undermining Fenland when the Government has signalled that our area should be actively considered on its own merits.
Key questions therefore are:
- What are the criteria that will be used by the Local Enterprise Partnership to make this decision, and why are these not published?
- Is the LEP promoting multiple sites even before it has received bids from individual districts, and if so why when it was happy for an individual district to be successful in the first wave?
- Is Fenland now making a joint bid alongside other districts from outside Cambridgeshire, or solely a Fenland only bid (I have written to Paul Medd, Chief Executive of Fenland Council to clarify this).
- Will local business leaders and all local political parties now unite behind a Fenland only Enterprise Zone bid – split between sites within our district?
If Peterborough needs its own Enterprise Zone alongside the University funding it is already receiving, then that could be at Whittlesey to enable a Fenland centred bid alongside the Wisbech and Chatteris site proposals ie three sites rather than two. This third site could link to completion of Kings Dyke and upgrades to the dualling of the A47 at Eye – on which there is still silence even though the Mouchel study in 2014 showed the benefits case to be very high about £8 per £1 cost and I raised questions about the lack of progress on this last December 2016!