ANALYSIS: What next for the Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft enterprise zone
The case for the New Anglia enterprise zone has been made and the government has backed the idea. Now the hard work starts of bringing in business and trying to create 2,000 jobs by 2015.
It is just over a month since the government designated six sites in Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth which will focus on the energy industry as part of the government's flagship policy to re-balance the economy in favour of manufacturing and away from an over reliance on the finance sector.
With its mix of tax breaks and relaxed planning rules the idea is to kickstart growth both in the area and beyond, and there has already been plenty of interest locally.
A recent East of England Energy Group (EEEGR) breakfast meeting dedicated to the enterprise zone and what happens next was a sell-out and property group Arnolds has already announced it will open an office at the Orbis Energy Centre in Lowestoft in October to target the sites.
Other companies are also believed to be interested in doing business within the new zone.
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The New Anglia zone covers a total of 121.3 hectares of development-ready land over six sites in Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Beccles.
Ninety per cent is new, rather than refurbished commercial land, but with both Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft outer harbour and ports within the zone there is industrial land as well as space to build warehouses, factories and offices all near port access.
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To enjoy the full benefits of being based in an enterprise zone – namely not having to apply for planning permission (although there are strict criteria and guidelines) and potential business rate relief worth up to �275,000 – the businesses moving in must be SMES (small or medium size enterprises).
But how do you turn the actual designation of the site, and the hype, into new business and jobs?
The government is still dotting the 'i's and crossing the 't's on the agreement and it will take time for business rate legislation to go through parliament and most importantly the local council planning departments to bring in the simplified planning rules.
And the breakfast meeting was told that is likely to be April before the zone is in place.
Guy Gowing, Arnolds managing partner, said in the meantime, the first step for interested businesses is to find the best site.
'They should come along and speak to us and we will investigate the sites,' Mr Gowing said. 'We will then analyse and fine tune the type of property they are looking for. We will find the site that is best suited for them.'
Mr Gowing said there had been a healthy amount of interest since the enterprise zone had been announced. And he said, even though the enterprise zones is not yet open, businesses should be getting things moving. 'There are various checks you have to go through,' he explained. 'You then have to make an application to the LEP who are administering it. We are quite pleased with the initial reaction.
'Most of them relate to new builds and therefore you cannot move in straight away, but you can start the discussions now,' said Mr Gowing.Those are the logistics, but how do you ensure the enterprise zone does what it says it would in a fiercely competitive market? New Anglia is not the only place to be given an energy enterprise zone – there are others in Humber and the North-East.
James Gray, inward investment director for EEEGR, said that the designation of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft as an enterprise zone was a 'terrific additional selling point' and the group is already networking and marketing to businesses across the UK, and internationally.
'It gives us an excuse to go back to businesses that we may have spoken to before, as we have been in the last few weeks,' Mr Gray said.
'We have this new status which has been granted to a number of really good sites. They are strategically well placed next to ports and right in the heart of the supply chain which is a key focus for potential investors. They will be able to tap into tremendous experience.'
He also said that the enterprise zone signalled a strong willingness by the energy sector and local government to support businesses coming in and to give them help. While the breakfast meeting also heard talk that the area's enterprise zone status would now be a specific item on worldwide embassy briefing notes highlighting the benefits of inward investment.
Fresh from Offshore Europe – one of the biggest energy conferences in the calendar – earlier this month, EEEGR chief executive John Best, said the new enterprise zone status was giving the team something with substance to talk about.
'It will be an important asset when promoting the region,' Mr Best said. 'It sets Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft as a high-profile item for inward investment to consider. The important thing is to ensure that we move with pace and certainty so that when enquiries come in they can be properly managed.'
Sid Anverali, financial director of CLS Offshore, which provides construction for the oil, gas and renewable sector, whose company has just opened new headquarters in Great Yarmouth in the former council offices off Malthouse Lane, said that as an expanding business in the area they were interested in the local development orders and the extra money the business rates would bring to the region.
He also said that with the New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership benefiting from the extra business rates revenues there could be potential investment opportunities.
'If you cut out the bureaucracy it becomes easier,' he said. 'We have some fairly major plans to do and we are looking for potential investment and there may be opportunities.'
But as well as the simplified planning rules and the financial incentives of the enterprise zone, there are other measures which must be taken to attract businesses.
John Balch, strategic director of Norfolk and Waveney Enterprise Services, which owns and manages the Beacon Innovation Centre, in Gorleston which is within the proposed enterprise zone, agreed that the scheme was a small part of the bigger picture.
'The better our infrastructure, whether that is broadband, roads or port access, the more we have to offer industry,' Mr Balch said. 'It is a global industry. Our competition is not just around the corner, it is international.'
'We are competing with the south-east and the north-west but we are also competing with mainland Europe and the Middle East and the Far East. Any advantage we can get is worth taking.'
He also said it was hoped that the zone would break the 'deadlock' in property values during the recession.
'Because the values are low there is an inertia to develop things,' Mr Balch added. 'Anything that helps that and sweetens the pot in terms of development criteria, planning or reductions in rates in a big advantage.'
But he warned that the region was 'sleep walking' into a skills shortage.
'If you do not have enough of the right people with the right skills set.'
But Chris Starkie, lead for New Anglia LEP, said the skills issues was being addressed and New Anglia was working with EEEGR and the skills for energy programme to ensure the skills mix was right for the businesses coming in.
'The enterprise zone is an extra part of the armoury,' he said.
'All of that is why the government liked our proposal. We have got a joined up plan for it.'
'We've had conversations with an engineering business in Lowestoft interested in moving production into the zone,' Mr Starkie added. 'They would be moving production from overseas to here.'
'Some of these will come to something and some of these won't. There is interest in it from a range of businesses. Our zone is slightly different to the other ones on coasts because they are primarily about offshore wind. We have everything from wind to oil and gas to nuclear.'