Northampton could throw hat into the ring for new round of Enterprise Zone bids

Local growth minister James Wharton visited Cosworth in Northampton today to discuss the extension of the Enterprise Zone scheme.
Local growth minister James Wharton visited Cosworth in Northampton today to discuss the extension of the Enterprise Zone scheme.

Political powers in Northampton could bid to expand the town’s Enterprise Zone following the local growth minister’s announcement today that the Government is inviting fresh bids.

The Waterside Enterprise Zone was launched in 2011, offering favourable business rates and relaxed planning regulations to businesses moving within the 300-acre area along the River Nene and Sixfields.

But the announcement by minister for Local Growth and the Northern Powerhouse, James Wharton, during a visit to Northampton today means it is likely town leaders will apply to expand it further.

Mr Wharton officially opened the next round of bidding for new Enterprise Zones across the UK, adding that any of the country’s existing 24 zones would also be able to bid to expand.

He said: “With this new round of Enterprise Zones even more areas and businesses will be able to benefit from the support they bring.

“Only the very best bids will succeed, but this is a chance for council leaders and businesses to make their case and secure a real boost to the local economy.”

This bidding round means Northamptonshire Local Enterprise Parnership, (LEP) made up of a body of own leaders, could bid to either expand the Waterside zone or to create a new one.

Mr Wharton said “there is nothing stopping them” bidding, adding that the Waterside zone has been one of the most successful in the country, creating around 1,100 jobs so far with firms such as Cosworth and, soon, the University of Northampton relocating to the area.

“This is one of the best examples in the country of an Enterprise Zone that is getting it right,” he said. “It takes local authority leadership, support from the local partnership (LEP) and business community.

“We want other people now to learn from the Northampton experience.”

However some business think tanks have criticised Enterprise Zones, a policy introduced by the previous Coalition government, saying they simply force a town’s existing firms to move away from central areas and into the newly created business districts.

Speaking outside of Cosworth’s £12 million new advanced manufacturing centre, Mr Wharton said in response: “A lot of investment here may not have been possible if it were not for the conditions around it.

“This building here was made possible because of the fast track planning regulations.”

Leader of Northampton Borough Council, Councillor Mary Markham (Con, Park), expressed her interest in the town applying in the new round of bids.

“We’ve got more businesses interested than we have got room for,” she said. “Yes, we would like to expand.”