Waterside Enterprise Zone – securing the legacy

By Graham Heilbuth, Associate Director, Lambert Smith Hampton

The concept of Enterprise Zones is not new. First rolled out in the 1980’s, some were criticised for doing no more than moving employment from one part of the country to another, and for subsidising investment that would have occurred in any event. 

The Waterside Enterprise Zone will undoubtedly be an immediate boon to Northampton. While full details are not yet known, it will mean companies coming into the Zone can enjoy tax breaks, reduced planning restrictions and business rate concessions. The local authority will be able to keep the extra business rate revenue to re-invest in encouraging enterprise. But to be judged a success the Zone must set down long term roots.

Northampton is a great place to have an Enterprise Zone. It is well located and has good access to major arterial roads.  However, the town centre suffers from long term under investment, the railway station and inner road system are woefully inadequate, and the central shopping district needs revitalising.  The Enterprise Zone will need to be supplied with a skilled local workforce and attractive local housing within easy commuting distance.

We’re fortunate that a number of projects are currently in hand which will do much to address these issues; WNDC has brought forward plans for a major redevelopment of the railway station which have received planning approval; NBC has produced a Central Area Action Plan which could potentially revitalise the Grosvenor Centre and areas such as St Johns and Derngate; and good quality housing is being developed at Upton, with the prospect of further housing on the edge of the Enterprise Zone on the Avon Nunn Mills site.

The high tech emphasis placed on the Enterprise Zone is astute. It will enable the Zone to build on the technological base that already exists. Hopefully, companies such as Virgin F1 Racing will set a lead and will base themselves permanently in Northampton. 

While much of the ground work is dependent on a number of different agencies, it is hoped that under the aegis of SEMLAC the project will be orchestrated in a coordinated manner.

The previous Enterprise Zone in Corby did much to save a town that faced economic ruin from cutbacks in the steel industry.  There is every reason to hope that the building blocks are in place to ensure a sound future for the Waterside Enterprise Zone.