Blackpool Council is set to borrow £28.8m to kick-start the next phase of the Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone.
The ambitious move follows the approval of the master plan for the 144 hectare site and bosses say borrowing the money, at the relatively low rates that councils can command, is the commitment the project needs to ensure it moves forward and makes the most of its potential.
The project aims to create 5,000 jobs for Blackpool people, attract £300m in private investment, and bring in more than 280 businesses to the site over 25 years, adding £2.5bn to the local economy.
Councillors will decide on the move at the next Blackpool Executive Committee on June 18.
But the report to the committee states : “A positive decision on the funding will be key to the future success of the Enterprise Zone and is essential to help secure early investment in the site, kick start development, build momentum and reinforce market confidence.”
The scheme is a partnership between the Lancashire Local Enterprise Partnership with Blackpool and Fylde Councils.
Coun Mark Smith, Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Enterprise and Economic Development said: “The Enterprise Zone has the potential to dramatically change the economic landscape of the Fylde Coast and Blackpool Council is committed to delivering a premier business location within the north west that will sustain long term economic growth and investment.
“The goal of the Enterprise Zone is to be the driving force of the local economy, unlocking key development sites, consolidating and building new infrastructure, attracting new business, investment and jobs, and providing a skilled, highly trained future workforce that the Fylde Coast can be proud.
“Blackpool Council is sending a strong signal by its firm commitment to prudential borrowing to deliver and secure a sound economic future for the citizens of the Fylde Coast.”
But leader of the Conservative group on Blackpool council, Coun Tony Williams, said: “Borrowing this amount of money is a huge risk for a single authority whose total debt will now be in excess of £300m.
“While I fully back the Enterprise Zone project we have to be realistic in terms of the actual take up of units against basic enquirers. I have also always said the council should never believe their own pretence of having the skills and ability to run large scale businesses, their record shows they have failed to prove this.
“It’s a simple case of whether the cost of building the units, access roads, utility provisions, highways etc can be met from the lower commercial rents and the council tax from the businesses that occupy each phase.
"Unlike the zone at Thornton which is owned by NPL Estates, Blackpool Council don’t have a business partner in this project to share the investment and the risk.”
But the team behind the plan said more than 50 companies had already moved their businesses to the zone and inquires were extremely high from new ones attracted by the incentives of either tax relief on capital allowances for large investments or business rate discounts.
They added that even with the most pessimistic scenario the borrowing would be offset by the income gathered by the council over the 25 year length of the scheme.