Hunts firms should plan now to exploit EZ

EVERY business in Huntingdonshire should already be making plans to benefit from the establishment of the enterprise zone at Alconbury Airfield, whether they plan to locate there or not, businesses were advised by Huntingdonshire District Council’s leader on Monday.

Councillor Jason Ablewhite said the new zone, in which smaller companies will get five years completely free of business rates as well as fast-tracked high-speed broadband, would put Huntingdonshire on the map both nationally and internationally.

Work on the first incubator unit in the zone was expected to start in April, creating the first of 8,000 additional high-quality jobs, he added.

“It presents a rare commercial opportunity in such uncertain economic times for existing local businesses, and I hope that you are all making plans now for how you can embrace this opportunity,” he told a meeting of invited business people.

He added: “Our main priority for the year ahead is to continue to work in partnership to ensure that every opportunity from the Alconbury development is maximized.

“This will involve predominantly collaborative work with regard to maximizing inward investment, employment and productivity growth aspects.

“But we are keen to ensure that local people benefit from this opportunity. So we will be working with the developers of Alconbury and Huntingdonshire Regional College to facilitate the delivery of apprenticeships on the site during the construction phase.”

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Cllr Ablewhite explained HDC’s role in making the district’s economic development successful.

“If we are to develop our local economy, we believe that it is essential to get the business environment right. This means ensuring that the infrastructure is in place to make this an attractive place to do business.

“So we will continue during the year ahead to work with partners, other local authorities and stakeholders in pursuit of improvements to the A14 and access to superfast broadband for all of our businesses and the majority of residents.”

The council would also work to ensure the centres of the district’s market towns were welcoming not just to shoppers but also for leisure activities, he added.

Councillor Jonathan Gray, who holds the finance portfolio in the cabinet, explained that the council’s total gross budget for 2012/13 would exceed �100million, although – even with the planned 3.5 per cent increase in Council Tax precept – the tax would contribute only �7.8m.

The largest items in the �19.3m capital budget would be �6m on economic development and more than �4m on each of leisure centres and car parking, including the new multi-storey in Huntingdon town centre.

More than half the capital budget would be funded by borrowing money that councils can currently get historically cheaply.

After more than �40m of benefits grants, plus fees and charges, the �82.3m revenue budget nets out at �21.7m, to be funded by �9.5m in central Government grant, the �7.8m Council Tax, �1.9m in New Homes Bonus and �2.5m taken from reserves.

But HDC’s recent record in delivering savings – including a pay freeze actually suggested by employees – suggest the council may need to make a smaller raid on the revenue reserves than it is currently predicting for 2012/13.

By 2016/17, the New Homes Bonus for Huntingdonshire could reach over �66m, Cllr Gray added, but that figure was predicated on the housing market behaving as predicted, and the Government might well claw some of it back by reducing the level of formula grant.