THE Sheffield region was given a major economic boost in the budget yesterday when Chancellor George Osborne announced it would be one of 11 locations for an enterprise zone, designed to encourage private sector business growth and jobs.
The city council immediately predicted it would “unlock the door to millions of extra investment” thanks to rate relief, the relaxation of planning rules and super-fast broadband.
In Sheffield, the announcement raised the possibility of a huge fillip to the Lower Don Valley – with echoes of the Sheffield Development Corporation that was created by Margaret Thatcher in the late 80s and 90s and prompted many millions of pounds of investment in the east end, notably with Meadowhall.
But the boundaries for the zone have yet to be decided, and other parts of the region will be considered for the Chancellor’s economic stimulus.
Sheffield City Region spans Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster, North Derbyshire and North Nottinghamshire.
Other strong cases can be made for focusing further attention on the Dearne Valley, part of it covering former pit sites between Barnsley and Rotherham, and the area around Robin Hood Airport, the old Finningley airport near Doncaster where road links are seen as a significant handicap to further development.
The decision will be taken by the new Local Enterprise Partnership board which is chaired by businessman James Newman and is led by the private sector, working with local authority leaders.
Mr Newman said the initiative will “assist us in our important goals of encouraging the growth of our existing regional economy, as well bringing more private and public sector investment in to the region.”
The board will decide the best location and structure for the zone, he said. “We shall be working closely with Government over the next few months to ensure that an enterprise zone within the City Region is up and running as soon as possible and is structured to maximise its value for business and the community.’’
If the zone was created in the Lower Don Valley, it would probably stretch from Attercliffe to the Magna Centre in Rotherham, possibly including the Waverley development near Catcliffe which has been earmarked for rapid growth in high-tech manufacturing.
There is also the possibility that British Land, part-owners of Meadowhall, could play a significant part, finally given the incentive to develop swathes of land near the shopping and leisure complex. Its ambitions for an office campus stalled with the recession.
Coun Ian Auckland, Liberal Democrat cabinet member for business, transport and skills, described the Chancellor’s announcement as “the biggest economic boost we have seen in our region for decades”.
He added: “This will unlock the door to millions of extra investment to stimulate growth and will see us becoming the place to do business. It puts Sheffield at the forefront of the kind of private sector growth that is required to get us out of the mess created by Labour.”
However, David Blunkett, MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, said: “It is totally unclear what it is that the enterprise zone will deliver, as it clearly doesn’t deliver anything for immediate improvement in advanced manufacturing; it doesn’t do anything for existing industry; and it might even draw people in who are competitors to those already in business in the city.”