The economic future of Breckland is looking bright, according to business analysts at the district council.

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Biomass plant to boost agricultural economy

The planned straw fired biomass plant at Snetterton, given planning permission from Breckland Council earlier this year, will result in a £9m annual investment in the East Anglian agricultural economy from fuel supply contracts by sourcing all straw from within the region where possible, say developers Iceni Energy.

It would also unlock Breckland Council’s plans to double the current 30ha of business and light industry at Snetterton Heath, helping to create between 500 and 1,500 jobs by 2021. This would include the further development of Snetterton Race Circuit, which is currently constrained by the lack of spare capacity in the existing electricity infrastructure, through providing a connection to the national electricity grid and a sustainable energy supply.

Snetterton Biomass Plant will burn primarily oilseed rape, cereal straw with a proportion of miscanthus and wood chippings, to generate 40MW (Megawatt) of renewable electrical energy, enough energy to meet the annual electricity consumption of between 62,000 and 68,000 households. It would cut emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) by more than 120,000 tonnes every year.

It is expected the plant will provide up to 36 permanent jobs when operational, plus a further 50 jobs in fuel transportation; and during construction an maximum of 250 people will be employed on site each day.

Where possible, the plant will also use local companies for its contracts, such as for routine maintenance. The plant will also help generate the opportunity for the creation of many further jobs through the development of the Snetterton Heath employment area.

It would also combine the capability to export both electricity and heat.

The availability of straw was one of the core issues raised during the consultation and as a result, Iceni held a number of meetings with the National Farmers Union, The National Pig Association and Anglia Farmers to help local farmers avoid any straw supply issues.

Andy Hilton, CEO of Iceni Energy Ltd, said: “We are confident that the biomass plant will provide a number of benefits for the local community.”

Construction is likely to commence next year, lasting around two and a half years.

With imminent improvements to the A11 and future growth of Thetford, Attleborough and Snetterton Heath the economic landscape is looking promising, a fact evident in figures from Jobcentre Plus that show available vacancies continue to rise.

The district is being seen as a very positive area for businesses to grow and thrive.

The latest claimant count figures show the rate of unemployment in the Breckland Council area has remained fairly constant at just under three percent of the working population (compared to just under four percent nationally), with just the expected slight fluctuation at the beginning of the year when seasonal workers have been laid off after Christmas.

In the new Breckland plan for Dereham, the town has been ear-marked to get 1,800 new jobs over the next decade as well as 600 new homes.

But, while the housing allocation was being met, there is concern about where the jobs will come from.

A survey has shown that 52pc of the people who live in Dereham work in the town and the jobs market was reliant on retail and services: the biggest employers were now Tesco, Morrisons and Breckland itself.

Closures in the town have included Chambers newsagents, The George, Bon Marche and Peacocks – but although the fashion retailer went into administration in January the Dereham branch reopened after being bought by Edinburgh Woollen Mill the following month.

A Ponden Home interiors shop has also been opened by EWM in the former Bon Marche shop.

The Lidl supermarket has reopened following an expansion, while a Dominos pizza shop is set to open on the Old Swaffham Road, creating 33 new jobs.

In Watton, Cranswick Country Foods is to apply for a United States Department of Agriculture accreditation, giving it the green light to sell premium Norfolk pork to the US.

The group, which sells bacon and sausages to supermarkets Sainsbury’s and Tesco, said the relative price of pork to other meats had helped it to grow its half year underlying turnover 5pc ahead of last year, in the six months to September 30.

It saw total sales 6pc ahead in the same period, helped by the performance of its newly acquired Milton-Keynes-based premium cooked and roast meat producer Kingston Foods.

Other positive steps include a contract to supply signs for the 2012 Olympics being secured by Mervyn Lambert Plant of Garboldisham, delivering live traffic information around the Olympic Park.

Sigma Energy, a company specialising in the production of biomass-based fuels for energy production, set up a new facility in 13,000 sq ft premises on Castleacre Industrial Estate, Swaffham.

Mansell’s of Swaffham secured a £2.6m contract with Scira Offshore Energy to help build the base of the Sheringham Shoal offshore wind farm, employing an average of 50 people during the contract. 

Mark Kiddle-Morris, executive member for assets and strategic development at Breckland Council, said: “The economic outlook in Breckland is positive and while the economic downturn has had an inevitable effect, businesses in Breckland are continuing to grow and companies from the wider areas are looking to relocate here.

“With the imminent duelling of the A11 and other significant plans for growth, the economic future of Breckland looks bright.”

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