Joseph Watts, Political editor
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
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.”