Westminster poised to hand Norwich spending power which could see research park quadruple in size

PUBLISHED: 00:00 19 February 2013

Norwich Research Park's innovation centre.

Norwich Research Park's innovation centre.

The government is poised to give Norfolk’s political and business leaders powers and money which could see the Norwich Research Park quadruple in size.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg yesterday ordered Whitehall officials to begin negotiations with city leaders to see how the hand-over might take place.

Under the government’s City Deals scheme ministers promised to pass local authorities powers, along with budgets that come with them, that previously were only wielded from Westminster.

To get a deal cities would have to show they could use the powers to substantially fire economic growth in their area; Norfolk councils proposed to use one to turbo-charge the life sciences sector at the Norwich Research Park (NRP).

Mr Clegg said: “Each deal is different, depending on the needs of the specific city or region, but the principle is always the same; central government hands over a set of freedoms.

“Deals are not one size fits all – they will be specifically negotiated between government and the city to reflect individual, different needs.

He added: “So for Norwich, [it will focus on] powers that will help to accelerate the growth of the Norwich Research Park and the internationally recognised environmental and life sciences industry.”

Up to now only the eight largest cities outside London have been granted a City Deal. Birmingham’s saw the city take £20m for a new life sciences centre, meanwhile the area’s councils took control of a £1.5bn investment fund.

The Norfolk deal was proposed by the Greater Norwich Development Partnership – made up of Norwich City Council, South Norfolk Council, Broadland District Council and Norfolk County Council with the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership.

If the government agrees the partnership could borrow money to fund big transport infrastructure projects and then fast track them through government agencies.

Meanwhile, the partnership would get a commanding say on how education budgets are spent, allowing them to train young people to work in the city’s growing industries such as the life sciences at the NRP.

A range of financial products, loans and grants, is also planned to help growth and innovation. Negotiations on exactly how the deal will work could now last a matter of months.

Leader of South Norfolk John Fuller said: “This is a huge vote of confidence by ministers in Norwich Research Park. In the last month we have granted outline planning permission for its expansion, which will create thousands of new jobs and bring new high skill employment to the county.”

Brenda Arthur, leader of Norwich City Council, said: “We are confident we can make a real difference to our local economy.”

What they said about the City Deal:

Brenda Arthur, leader of Norwich City Council said: “In these difficult economic times, with a tough jobs market, an opportunity like this had to be seized and I cannot stress too much, the hard work and effort that has been put into this bid by officers and members of the local authorities and the enterprise partnership.”

Andrew Proctor, leader of Broadland District Council: “This is encouraging news and shows that government has recognised greater Norwich as an area that is set to grow and wants to grow.

“Money invested here will yield returns for the local and national economy. The opportunities are here; investment will enable us to bring economic growth forward, provide the necessary infrastructure sooner and ramp up our efforts to develop our skills base to attract businesses here; as well as helping our existing businesses to be more competitive in increasingly global markets.”

Andy Wood, chairman of the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership: “The City Deal provides a great opportunity to deliver more jobs and strengthen our local economy. We look forward to working with local authority colleagues to develop our plans further.”

Ann Steward, cabinet member for economic development at Norfolk County Council, said: “This is really great news for not only the Norwich area, but for the Norfolk economy as a whole and I’m absolutely delighted that the government has recognised that our case is worthy of further examination.

“The Norwich Research Park is already a fantastic facility, but having our bid accepted as part of the City Deal programme offers local decision makers the freedom to unlock its potential and speed up the delivery of thousands of new jobs and growth, which are vital for our economic future.”

John Fuller, leader of South Norfolk Council said: “The City Deal is the next step in a masterplan process which began years ago and will transform Norwich Research Park into a global centre of commercial and research science excellence for decades to come.”

Simon Wright, Norwich South MP, said: “The Norwich Research Park provides real opportunities for job creation in the city. A City Deal for Norwich based around the world-class reputation of the Research Park will mean we will reap the benefits of growth across Norfolk sooner rather than later.

“By passing this stage of the process, the coalition government has sent a clear signal that it recognises the job growth opportunities in and around Norwich.”

Caroline Williams chief executive of Norfolk Chamber of Commerce said: “City Deal for Norwich presents a fantastic opportunity. It will give us the freedom to shape Norwich’s economic future differently from what has been possible in the past. We will be doing all we can to ensure Norwich’s City Deal is one of the first within the government’s timeline to move forward to the next stage.”

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