Extension to enterprise zone hailed as chance of a lifetime

BLYTH Valley MP Ronnie Campbell has hailed the announcement that the north east enterprise zone could be extended to take in the Blyth estuary as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity”.

Mr Campbell first raised the issue with Business Secretary Vince Cable in October amid uncertainty over the future of Lynemouth’s Rio Tinto Alcan aluminium plant, since earmarked for closure.

He said: “I wrote to him and asked him about it. Then we had a meeting about Alcan, and I raised it again with him.

“If we lose Alcan, and it looks like that is the way it is going to go, we need to open up the land in the Blyth estuary for employment opportunities.”

Mr Campbell is delighted that Blyth got a mention in Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s autumn statement last week, as reported in the News Post Leader, and that businesses there could be in line for 100 per cent grants.

Mr Campbell said: “I had asked the chancellor, if it was affordable, could we do this, and it was very successful.

“I’m delighted. It’s what we’ve been arguing for. I thought ‘bingo’.

“With all that grant money, anything could come along.

“We’ve now got to get a scheme together. The powers that be will have to get their heads together.

“We’ve got all that land for developing, and jobs can flow from it.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and we’ve got to take it.

“The opportunity has been given, and if the model is right and it’s a good scheme, take it from there and get the jobs coming.”

Congratulating Mr Osborne in the House of Commons last week, the former miner said: “I welcome the Chancellor’s statement on the port of Blyth, which is something for which I have been fighting for a long time.

“I asked the Business Secretary about that only last week, so this is good, quick thinking.

“However, is the Chancellor aware that south east Northumberland, where Blyth and the estuary are, has the highest unemployment in the north east and perhaps the country?

“Will he consider making the estuary and all the land around it into an enterprise zone, bringing the jobs to where the unemployment blackspots are?”

Mr Osborne replied: “We have acted quickly on a specific proposal that was made for the port of Blyth.

“We are going to consult on it and get the detail right.

“I am happy to consider the proposal that he makes. It has to be affordable, of course, and it has to work in terms of encouraging enterprise and new business, but we are absolutely committed to the north eastern zone and to the port of Blyth being a successful part of it.”

The possible extension north of the enterprise zone has also been welcomed by Northumberland County Council, and it will now work with its partners in Blyth and the North Eastern Local Enterprise Partnership to finalise plans with the government.

Council leader Jeff Reid, of Plessey in Blyth, said: “We welcome the government’s confirmation that capital allowances of 100 per cent will be available to manufacturing and other industries in the north eastern enterprise zone and that it will consider extending these to the port of Blyth to create new private-sector jobs.”

Mr Osborne’s statement has also raised hopes of more good news this month – in the form of funding for the Morpeth northern bypass.

Mr Reid added: “We will continue to press ministers for additional measures for economic growth.

“Given last Tuesday’s announcements regarding the additional £170m funding allocation to the development pool for major transport schemes, we are hopeful of good news in December regarding government funding which could match the council’s contribution to deliver the south east Northumberland strategic link road.”

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