Deal or no deal? City awaits decision from Westminster
11:36 18 February 2013
Norfolk’s political and business leaders have been on tenterhooks for the past week expecting an announcement that has the potential to transform the county’s economic future.
They were first expecting a decision from Westminster on whether Norwich and the surrounding area would be granted a “City Deal” at the start of last week.
If the deal comes through it would mean Whitehall departments passing substantial powers to boost economic growth, only previously wielded from London, to Norwich City Council and its partners.
But the decision was delayed to the end of the week and then delayed again.
Now, with Nick Clegg due to speak on decentralisation this week, there is a strong expectation that we will find out either today or tomorrow whether a deal has been struck.
The leader of Norwich City Council Brenda Arthur, pictured below, said: “Clearly this would be a tremendous opportunity for the city and our partners in the surrounding areas.
“The opportunity to accelerate growth in our economy is something that we all need as quickly as possible. We need more homes and jobs and the City Deal offers the chance to bring that on faster.”
Under the City Deals scheme introduced by the coalition, ministers promised to hand councils powers, and the budgets which come with them, if local authorities could show they had a plan to use them to regenerate their economies.
Up to now only the eight largest cities outside London have been granted a City Deal. As part of Birmingham’s, the city won £20m for a new life sciences centre and the area’s councils took control of a £1.5bn investment fund.
Meanwhile in Nottingham councils won control of a £45m venture capital fund and in Liverpool councils took control of an £800m 10-year transport investment fund.
At the end of last year the Greater Norwich Development Partnership – made up of Norwich City Council, South Norfolk Council, Broadland District Council and Norfolk County Council – teamed up with the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership to bid for a deal.
At the centre of their proposal was an attempt to turbo charge the success of the Norwich Research Park (NRP) turning it into an “engine of growth” for the whole of Norfolk. There were three broad strands to their plan, firstly, powers to upgrade infrastructure.
Currently when a council grants planning permission for a development it can ask the developer to pay a community infrastructure levy (CIF); money to fund transport upgrades to support the new building.
But if the government agrees to the Norwich City Deal the partners will be able to borrow against future CIF receipts in order to fund a raft of infrastructure upgrades now.
Meanwhile, the deal would also see agencies whose approval is needed to push forward with infrastructure upgrades – like the Environment Agency and the Health and Safety Executive –agreeing to work at a faster pace.
The second strand is based on improving skills in the city, with councils and business leaders getting a commanding say on how educational budgets are spent.
They argue that will allow them to train the county’s young people to work in the industries most likely to be based in Norfolk in the future; in energy or in the life sciences sector that is mushrooming out of the NRP for example.
Finally the partners want to set up a range of financial products, loans and grants to help support growth and innovation in Norfolk’s private sector.
Programme director at New Anglia Chris Starkie said: “This is offering a huge opportunity for Norwich and the areas surrounding it.
“The deal will give us much greater control of national funding streams which will enable us to deliver more jobs and housing in a far more targeted and cost effective manner.”
With Ipswich also bidding for a City Deal of its own, this week’s announcement, if positive, could see a major boost for the wider eastern region too.