FEATURE: Huntingdonshire economy is put under the spotlight with future looking bright for district

High Streets, Huntingdonshire.

High Streets, Huntingdonshire. - Credit: Archant

A light at the end of the tunnel can be finally seen – and, to many, the economic light in Huntingdonshire is shining brighter than in most parts of the country, including our neighbouring districts in Cambridgeshire.

High Street, Huntingdonshire.

High Street, Huntingdonshire. - Credit: Archant

The current level of investment in the district is huge, particularly when you consider that these ­spending commitments were being made at a time when Britain was being told to cut its cloth.

Footfall in Huntingdonshire towns. Image: PIKTOCHART

Footfall in Huntingdonshire towns. Image: PIKTOCHART - Credit: Archant

But the gamble looks as if it is paying off and will come to fruition at the right time.

Huntingdon is going through massive changes that will see the town become almost unrecognisable to a few years ago.

The £25million investment in Chequers Court and the Huntingdon West development is designed to bring new life to town, attracting additional national retailers and providing increased trade, both in terms of residents shopping closer to home and visitor numbers.

Then there’s the A14 project which will potentially, depending on the preferred route, unshackle the town’s traffic flow as well as that of the surrounding areas – from Godmanchester to St Ives and all the villages along the existing route.

St Ives continues to charm visitors from the guided busway and, come May, St Neots will boast a rare thing – a cinema in the middle of town, an attraction pulling people towards the centre rather than out of town.

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The Enterprise Zone, at Alconbury Weald, is another string to Huntingdonshire’s economic bow, attracting new businesses and providing employment opportunities over an extended period.

All of these projects – as well as smaller schemes – will help to get the district back to the top of its game, providing a good quality of life for residents as well as high levels of employment.

Economist Adrian Cannard, ­strategy and planning director at the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Huntingdonshire has great potential.

“If you look at job growth in Huntingdonshire overall, between 1991 and 2001 jobs grew by 15,000, and then the next decade it grew by 5,000.

“We had a good start to the decade but then the recession hit and there were jobs lost. It means that in 20 years we have seen the number of jobs grow from 60,000 to 80,000.

“Looking forward, in terms of employment, we are forecasting that an extra 15,000 jobs will be made in the next 20 years.

“The size of job growth in the area is due to the 8,000 at the Alconbury Campus and then the others are from the spin-off jobs.

“Huntingdonshire has got quite a diverse economy, well represented by manufacturing and the professional services. Nationally, manufacturing has seen a steady decline in employment.

“What we see in Huntingdonshire are many small businesses specialising in different areas and that they have held on very well over the last decade, despite the recession.

“I think they have been able to adapt and slow production, or go into more advanced manufacturing, which is a real strength of Huntingdonshire.

“We see quite a positive outlook for job growth as long as we get the infrastructure right and get the right skills.

“Infrastructure is going to be key. The A14 is vital, not just for Huntingdonshire, but Cambridgeshire as well, and we need to keep the momentum of this going.

“The country is still coming out of recession and we still have relatively low interest rates that look to remain for now.

“We are now starting to look like recovering. We have opportunities if you get the right investment in early, like we are seeing in Huntingdonshire.”

Mr Cannard believes the rural economy in Huntingdonshire was also in a promising position, with farmers looking at diversifying and increasing food production.