The choice last Thursday of Vantec Europe’s warehouse near Nissan’s Sunderland plant for the launch of the north east independent economic review was heavy with symbolism.
The recently opened £22.5m warehouse, creating 230 jobs, is the first major project to get under way on any of the UK’s new wave of enterprise zones. It is thus a feather in the cap for the North East local enterprise partnership, which lobbied for enterprise zone status and commissioned the economic review.
The positive connotations of the building developed for Vantec Europe, the largest supplier of critical logistics to the adjacent Nissan plant, have not been lost on the government. George Osborne, the chancellor, visited in August to watch construction. While there, he offered a 40ha extension to NELEP’s current 120ha EZ, subject to negotiation.
Currently, NELEP’s enterprise zone covers 10 sites within three area clusters – land near Nissan, beside the River Tyne and adjacent to the Port of Blyth in Northumberland. Some sites offer enhanced capital allowances; others, business rate relief.
The 32.5ha ultra low carbon zone, where the Vantec warehouse is located, was this month awarded £5.4m European money to accelerate infrastructure development. Sunderland city council is providing £4.8m and NELEP a £4m loan.
Further north, Bridon International has developed a £30m rope plant in the zone at Neptune Quay in Newcastle, supported by £2.2m regional growth fund money. The plant, producing the world’s largest and most complex multi-strand ropes, is creating 39 jobs and safeguarding 150.
However, the Tyneside zone has hit problems too, with a legal challenge which may delay take up of enterprise zone concessions at the former Swan Hunter site. Renamed the Jupiter PaRC site – PaRC standing for production and renewables – it has been earmarked by North Tyneside council, which bought the site, for offshore energy-related development. It has selected a development partner. But Shepherd Offshore, which occupies adjacent land and is the biggest private landowner on the Tyne, is seeking a judicial review after not being selected.
With the clock ticking on availability of enterprise zone concessions on this site, Linda Arkley, North Tyneside’s Tory mayor, is worried. “I’m really very, very concerned that by the action that the Shepherds are taking this could scupper the whole of the EZ,” she told the Financial Times.
Get alerts on UK regional policy when a new story is published