Hunts enterprise zone ‘will bring cash and jobs’

ORGANISATIONS preparing for the start of the enterprise zone at Alconbury Airfield have taken positive steps to ensure that companies moving there add value to the local economy.

A memorandum of understanding agreed between the site’s owners, Urban&Civic and its backers, the Greater Cambridge, Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership, Cambridgeshire County Council and Huntingdonshire District Council aims to prevent firms relocating simply to take advantage of the business rate holiday on offer.

“It sets out criteria for what kind of companies will be allowed to locate at the enterprise zone to avoid displacement simply to take advantage of the business rate discount,” the LEP’s interim executive director, Glenn Athey, told The Hunts Post.

So most firms locating there are expected to come from outside the LEP area, which includes the whole of Cambridgeshire, together with neighbouring parts of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Lincolnshire.

Urban&Civic is encouraging interest from overseas as well as from other parts of the UK, though businesses within the LEP area will not be excluded.


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But their bids will be considered only if there is a compelling business case that results in increased investment and employment, such as a company with multiple sites that needs to consolidate or an expanding firm needing a larger site to employ more people.

The sort of logistics activities that have temporary planning consents at the airfield will be discouraged and eventually discontinued.

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The developers’ first new-build in the enterprise zone will be what they call an ‘incubator unit’ designed for occupation by smaller companies, though temporary occupation of existing buildings after refurbishment is a possibility, as a precursor to building bespoke new premises.

Mr Athey sees ‘advanced manufacturing’, possibly association with the Cambridge ‘knowledge cluster’, as the likely initial activity of the enterprise zone, with other activities following as the infrastructure goes in.

“A very high profile anchor tenant would do a lot in terms of momentum, and we have seen that sort of interest,” he said.

Development of the zone comes at a time when UK-based innovators are starting to realise that there are drawbacks to manufacturing overseas.

Not only are the cost advantages diminishing as ‘quantitative easing’ – something we used to call devaluation of sterling – erodes the price advantage, but British firms are starting to recognise the advantages of retaining control of their inventory in the interest of flexibility in their response to demand.

The LEP, which aims to help create 160,000 new jobs by 2025, has identified five areas on which it will concentrate over the coming year, including job creation, matching training provision to employers’ skills needs, attracting investment to the area, helping smaller firms with financing, and campaigning for pump-priming infrastructure.

The A14 upgrade will be the key issue, but Mr Athey points to the success of much smaller projects in attracting investment.

The CB1 development near Cambridge railway station has already sucked in Microsoft and a major law firm, as well as an hotel and significant residential development.

“The guided bus has been another success story, and who knows what the new station at Chesterton will attract?”

But the A14 is at the top of the agenda. “It is one of the key things that will unlock our potential, and we need to support and amplify the business view to lobby Whitehall and back up the county council, which is doing the major work on it.”

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