By Anna Calzada
Durham County Council has proposed two areas of the county which could be eligible for the new investment area scheme. The scheme was recently introduced as part of former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng’s ill-fated mini-budget, with the aim of boosting economic growth and unlocking new housing projects.
NETPark, a science, engineering and technology park in Sedgefield, and Aykley Heads in Durham City are the two areas proposed as candidates for the Investment Zone scheme. If successful, the zones will be offered tax breaks, stamp duty relief, national insurance contributions and relaxed planning laws, as well as time-limited tax incentives over a ten-year period. in hopes of stimulating growth by inducing businesses to thrive.
NETPark is one of the UK’s leading science, engineering and technology parks for the commercialization of current research. The park is supported by major international organizations such as the European Union and universities, including Durham University, which provide academic expertise and a pool of PhD students for NETPark businesses.
More than 30 companies and 550 highly skilled jobs are currently based in the park. Should investment zone status be achieved, NETPark would be offered government support and investment from the Council and the North East Local Business Partnership.
Aykley Heads is a district on the northern outskirts of Durham City, located near the University Hospital of North Durham. It is run by Business Durham and already has a number of established businesses, such as Atom Bank and the North East Chamber of Commerce.
Under the scheme, the park is proposed to offer over 400,000 square feet of floor space spanning 6 development plots, with the potential to accommodate 19 separate buildings. New green spaces and paths will be created to provide a more pleasant environment for workers and residents.
Councilor Amanda Hopgood, Leader of Durham County Council, said: “Both NETPark and Aykley Heads have a clear focus on high value jobs and innovation. Investment zone status could help secure private investment and supply chain opportunities for other businesses in the county. If the proposals were approved, it would provide a huge boost to our county’s economy, helping businesses accelerate growth and hire more staff.
Elsewhere in the North East, two other bids to create new investment zones have already been confirmed. These include a regeneration of the Northumberland railway line and an ‘Arc of Energy Innovation’ scheme, aimed at creating jobs in the renewable energy industry. These low-tax areas would extend to Newcastle, Northumberland and North Tyneside, and are expected to create 23,000 jobs and 8,000 homes in the area.
Although the majority of ex-Chancellor Kwarteng’s mini-budget has been scrapped by new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, it has been indicated that the new investment zone policy will continue. However, given the tumultuous economic environment and the current turmoil in government, many council officers are skeptical about the real realization of the investment zones.
Before the end of the year, the ministers will consider the offers and the government should announce the offers of the investment zone which will move to the next level of development. To progress to this stage, sites will need to demonstrate that the investment areas will stimulate economic development on previously undeveloped land.
Image: NET Park