Plans to create thousands of jobs in Blackpool and help safeguard the future of the resort’s airport are set to be unveiled by the Chancellor tomorrow.
Generous tax breaks aimed at attracting top class businesses to the Fylde coast are likely to form part of the deal to set up an enterprise zone in Blackpool, which is expected to be announced as part of George Osborne’s Budget speech.
This would be a massive boost for Blackpool
And the plans, which received cross-party support locally, are projected by experts to have the potential to create 3,000 jobs over the coming years.
One expert close to the bidding process told The Gazette: “It would be a tremendous boost to the economy – it is another lifeline for the airport.”
The source added the announcement “leaves the door open” for the return of international commercial flights in the future.
The airport was closed by owners Balfour Beatty last October after racking up debts of £34m. More than 100 jobs were lost.
It re-opened in December but without commercial flights or an international airline based at Squires Gate.
The source added although there was “no imminent prospect” of such flights returning, the terms of the enterprise zone would “keep the infrastructure there”.
He added: “This is a foundation to build on. It’s not an immediate solution but it does give us a real opportunity.”
Blackpool Council joined forces with Fylde Council, Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership (LEP) – which runs an existing enterprise zone at Warton – to look at plans for the long-term viability of the airport.
The process to create a bid to put to the Government was revealed around a month ago.
Tomorrow’s announcement is expected to confirm the success of that bid.
Although the Treasury is remaining tight-lipped ahead of the Budget announcement, plans submitted to the Government are understood to cover a 140-hectare area stretching from the airport entrance to the former Wellington Bomber factory.
It includes some of the airport and some neighbouring land.
The existing retail park and the runway are not included in the plans.
No exact details have been confirmed, but some expect it to be an extension of the existing enterprise zone at BAE Systems in Warton and Samlesbury. Run by the LEP, it would mean businesses have access to business rates discounts worth up to £275,000 or tax relief in the form of enhanced capital allowances on plants and machinery.
Fylde MP Mark Menzies said he had lobbied the Government for support since the airport closed last year.
He added: “This announcement will help bring businesses to the area, many of which will be attracted by the availability of a working runway on site, and lead to job creation, growth and connectivity for the wider Fylde coast.
“I recently met with owners Balfour Beatty and local councillors at the airfield to discuss ways to secure the site financially so this status will have a big impact on their plans for the future, I am sure.”
Hugh Evans, policy director at the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, said: “It would be a massive boost for Blackpool and the Fylde coast. It is great news for the airport and could help secure its future.
“To have an enterprise zone alongside the airport adds value to its operations because there is inward investment coming in – it could have massive implications.”
Blackpool Council’s transport chief said the expected announcement showed that some hard work had “paid off”.
Coun John Jones added: “This is good news – it is going to attract business, create employment and grow the economy. This recognises that the airport is going to be there.”
Coun Tony Williams, leader of the Conservative opposition on Blackpool Council, was among those pushing the government to back the enterprise zone plans.
He said: “It shows a true definite future for the airport that would bring more jobs to the area.
“The enterprise zone is exactly the kick-start we need. It’s a perfect site – its got motorway access and a runway.
“This will bring millions of pounds into the area.”
He said the enterprise zone is the first piece of the “jigsaw” and the focus now needs to be on attracting the right businesses and bringing the visitors into the resort that will make the airport and enterprise zone a success.
If given the green light, the enterprise zone would be open to all businesses but any tax breaks would be discretionary, meaning they could be reserved for businesses creating jobs and investing in Blackpool.
It is anticipated the strongest interest will come from the aviation, energy, food and drink and manufacturing sectors.
While the LEP has yet to receive official confirmation of the news, Mr Osborne has dropped some strong hints.
Writing in The Sun, he said: “We will build on our existing enterprise zones and create two more, in Plymouth and Blackpool.”
However, concerns have been raised by some over the lack of progress made by the existing enterprise zone at Warton and Samlesbury, which was recently branded the worst in the country.
Rob Blower, of Save Blackpool Airport, said: “The idea is to bring jobs into the area and if it does, that’s fantastic.
“It is very good news but I just have a concern with the enterprise zones we have.
“I don’t know what’s gone wrong at Warton and Samlesbury but I wouldn’t want to see the same thing in Blackpool.” Bosses accused the then local growth minister Penny Mordaunt of “bringing politics into play” last year after she wrote to the LEP over concerns the sites at Warton and Samlesbury had not created any jobs.
The LEP said it was on track to deliver the first new jobs this year, with the aim of creating 6,000 over the lifetime of the deal still “intact”.
The exact size of the enterprise zone at the airport is unclear but it aims to encourage the development of unused land at the site.
Gordon Marsden, Labour MP for Blackpool South, welcomed the news in principle but warned: “The devil is in the detail. Any additional potential support in the form of an enterprise zone is welcome but we have not seen the detail of this.
“We don’t know what extra financial support will come in on the back of it.
“Enterprise zones are a box into which businesses have to be encouraged. They are not a complete solution.”
Airport ‘should make use of fund’
While business leaders across Blackpool wait for the full details of George’s Osborne’s plans for the resort, a new report has underlined the importance of smaller airports across the country.
A report from the House of Commons Transport Committee said: “Smaller airports are economic and social enablers.”
It also highlighted sources of funding to help boost airports struggling with financial pressures.
Blackpool South MP Gordon Marsden said he had advised Blackpool Airport bosses over way to make use of the Air Connectivity Fund to encourage commercial flights back.
Coun John Jones, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for transport, said: “I will be asking Balfour Beatty to look at the use of the Regional Air Connectivity Fund to support new routes to and from Blackpool and we will also consider how changes to air passenger duty might help with the viability of the airport.
“I am convinced the future of the airport is looking better and that we are moving forward to new era of both aviation and other uses to create jobs and grow the local economy of the area.”
In a speech in Westminster on the future of civil aviation, Mr Marsden, who is also the shadow aviation minister, said: “The experiences at Blackpool and elsewhere shows that local airports need to be strongly linked into Local Enterprise Partnership, and other key funding and infrastructure decisions in the region.
“It’s time for that major review of how we can support and galvanise our local regional airports, over and beyond new routes.”