Boosting Norwich Research Park is essential to turn it into an “engine of growth” for the whole county, according to council leaders who hope to seize new powers to help fulfil its potential.

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They say thousands more jobs could be created through a plan to “shamelessly and aggressively commercialise the development potential” of the park - home to the John Innes Centre, The Institute of Food Research, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, The Genome Analysis Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory.

And that could also lead to public transport improvements and raise job prospects for young people, council bosses believe.

As part of a “city deals” scheme introduced by the government, ministers have promised to hand councils new powers, if local authorities can prove that using them will help regenerate their economy.

With 20 more deals up for grabs in a second wave this year, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and cities minister Greg Clark had, in October, invited the greater Norwich area to get in on the act.

The Greater Norwich Development Partnership - made up of Norwich City Council, South Norfolk Council, Broadland District Council and Norfolk County Council - have been working on an ‘expression of interest’ to try to secure one of those deals.

And it has emerged that Norwich Research Park is to be the focus of that bid, with a goal to make Greater Norwich an “international centre for business enterprise in life sciences”.

Officers want to secure influence and control over government funding streams and new powers to focus on three key areas - enterprise and innovation; plugging a skills gap; and improving infrastructure.

They want new powers which would enable the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) to help provide business support, so scientists are better able to turn innovative ideas into successful businesses, with European funding redirected to the LEP so cash is at hand.

The councils also want permission to borrow against future income from future home building so that the cash can be used to provide infrastructure, such as improvements to the road junctions at Thickthorn and Longwater, along with investment in bus rapid transit.

And they want the government to devolve skills funding to local councils, so, working with businesses, they can use the money to make sure young people get the sort of qualifications bosses at the research park want from their workforce.

Jerry Massey, deputy chief executive at Norwich City Council, said: “There has never been a bigger opportunity for the Greater Norwich area to achieve transformational growth.

“Given new freedom and flexibility to align funding and decision making, we will deliver additional jobs, an enhanced skills pool and business start ups with associated infrastructure.

“This will accelerate Norwich Research Park expansion, but also extend jobs and business growth across the wider economy.”

Norfolk County Council’s cabinet yesterday supported the submission of the expression of interest. Bill Borrett, the authority’s deputy leader, said: “This is not just about the city of Norwich. It’s about Broadland, South Norfolk and the county council and the benefits will flow to the wider Norfolk area, as it will be an engine of growth for the whole of Norfolk.”

The final ‘expression of interest’ for the City Deal has to be submitted by next Tuesday, with the government due to announce which bids have been successful next month.

The government has said there will be an “element of competition” and not all cities invited to take part should expect to be awarded a deal.

Meanwhile, councillors will tomorrow make a key decision over an ambitious £26m expansion of Norwich Research Park.

Members of South Norfolk Council’s planning committee will meet to vote on permission for what is known as the Norwich Research Park North development.

The radical plans, which could create more than 5,000 jobs, include new flagship buildings and upgrades to the park’s IT infrastructure and road network.

Known as Project 26, the aim of the expansion is to kickstart development of the park to encourage more businesses to set up home there.

South Norfolk Council officers are recommending approval of the outline plans. A number of existing buildings on the site, off Colney Lane, would be knocked down, with 65,000 square metres of new office space for research and development created.

But the proposals have sparked concerns from some parish councils who fear the extra traffic will lead to clogged roads and rat-running.

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