Doubts raised over new enterprise zone despite first tenant being found
- Credit: Ian Burt
Concerns have been raised over a council's £2.2m commitment to a controversial business zone scheme offering reduced rates for companies involved in the offshore energy sector.
It comes as Tidal Transit, a business providing transport for those working in the offshore energy sector, became the first new business to agree to move into the Egmere Business Zone, based at Egmere, between Fakenham and Wells.
Companies can move into the area without having to apply for planning permission and receive a five-year break from business rates, with North Norfolk District Council (NNDC) setting aside £2.2 million for the project.
The council will pay for a new premises to be built for Tidal Transit to move into, with the company then paying rent on the property.
Councillor Nigel Dixon, NNDC's economic development, business and tourism portfolio holder has voiced strong concerns over the scheme's viability.
He said: "Several years ago the Egmere site was a reasonable proposal to attract offshore wind farm support activities but all recent wind farms now use deep water ports like Great Yarmouth and Grimsby so that opportunity has all but gone.
"The market interest from other sectors is untested, it would be a big investment and it's in a remote rural location so it's a very high-risk venture. We haven't had anything to confirm any new jobs would be created.
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"We need an independent appraisal of the scheme. We had a district-wide consultants report in 2015 that suggested we should leave it to the market as they weren't sure it would be successful."
However, the council recently voted to continue with the scheme.
Deputy leader Richard Price said: "To have something like this that is a 15 minute drive from Fakenham is a great opportunity.
"It will provide a good return and will give people employment opportunities. Our officers are talking to other energy businesses at the moment and after that we hope to be able to open it up to other businesses."
Tom FitzPatrick, district councillor for the Walsingham ward, also supports the scheme. He said: "Now it's been agreed for the first new business to move in there will be a big push. If you want to generate the business and bring people in then the council has to take some initiative and I think it's important we keep that initiative up."
Background to the Egmere Business Zone
The Egmere Business Zone is part of a wider government initiative to support business growth in the UK.
It is just one of many enterprise zones located across East Anglia and one of two in North Norfolk, which offer reduced business rates of up to 100%, simplified local authority planning and access to superfast broadband.
Plans for the enterprise zone have been discussed for the last few years and North Norfolk District Council has set aside £2.2m for the scheme.
In 2015, councillor Tom FitzPatrick said he believed there could be up to 300 jobs created on the site. Three years on, however, the first new business has only just committed to moving into the area.
Tidal Transit has agreed to move into the Egmere Enterprise Zone and will rent premises which will be built by the council.