Alconbury Enterprise Zone would bring 8,000 jobs

EIGHT thousand jobs could be created at Alconbury Airfield after part of the site was chosen as the preferred location for an enterprise zone.

If the 150-hectare site gets Government backing, it will have a huge impact on Huntingdonshire’s economy, attracting businesses, investment, infrastructure and even publicly-funded high-speed broadband.

Becoming an enterprise zone would save incoming companies up to �275,000 in business rates and keep 100 per cent of rate revenue from the site in the area, according to Huntingdonshire District Council.

Alconbury was last week backed by the new Greater Cambridgeshire and Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), which had considered five possible sites from areas covered by the partnership, to become one of the zones earmarked to lead the UK out of recession.

The other four were in King’s Lynn, Bury St Edmunds, Wisbech and what was known as the ‘Peterborough railway corridor’.

Alconbury will be up against 24 other sites from across the country to become one of 10 enterprise zones.

HDC’s new executive leader, Councillor Jason Ablewhite, believes Alconbury would be a perfect location for a project that would take Huntingdonshire out of the shadow of its city neighbours in Cambridge and Peterborough.

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He said: “It is something we are hugely supportive of, as is Urban and Civic [the development company that bought the airfield nearly two years ago], which is keen to help deliver it.

“We have made a very strong bid but we won’t know whether we have been successful until next month. But it would certainly chime with the development ambitions Urban and Civic has for the site.

“It will be hugely beneficial to the area and the whole district. The advantages would be phenomenal in terms of location and national influence. It would make Huntingdonshire a stand-alone centre for business and encourage new firms into the area. It’s really exciting.”

According to the council’s communications and partnerships manager, Helen Donnellan, the award of enterprise zone status to part of Alconbury Airfield would mean a 100 per cent business rate discount worth up to �275,000 over a five-year period for businesses that moved in during the course of this Parliament.

And all business rates growth within the zone for at least 25 years would be retained and shared by the local authorities in the LEP area.

Currently about 800 people work there, mainly in businesses with temporary planning consents, which could be moved to other parts of the airfield to make way for the enterprise zone.

Planning consents would be accelerated through a ‘local development order’, which, because the site is already zoned for employment use, could be put in place within a couple of months, according to HDC’s head of planning services, Steve Ingram.

“The enterprise zoneEZ is a key ingredient of delivering the whole high-quality site,” he added.

Cambridgeshire County Council leader Nick Clarke, who is a member of the LEP board, said the decision to put forward Alconbury to Government would be a win for the whole area and urged communities to get behind the bid.

“Cambridgeshire’s economic success is vital for the country. Not only would local jobs and business prosper from an enterprise zone, but it is well recognised that Cambridgeshire is an area whose success could kick start and grow the UK’s economy,” he said.

“Now is the time for us as councillors, our communities and businesses as well as our MPs to get behind this bid and do what we can to persuade Government that it’s in the local and UK interest to grant us an enterprise zone.

“This would see more jobs and prosperity created while money raised locally is kept locally to benefit the area rather than going into a large Government pot.”

Urban and Civic managing director Robin Butler said: “We want this strategically important site to be recognised nationally, respected regionally and cherished locally. This nomination will help us deliver that.”

The airfield site currently has planning consent for a rail-linked freight terminal.