Requests for funding to develop an enterprise zone around the Crewe HS2 station, and grow the life sciences and renewable energy clusters at Alderley Park and Ellesmere Port, are included in the LEP’s submission to Whitehall ahead of the comprehensive spending review.
“We are the fastest growing sub-region in the UK and our model for continued, rapid growth is about investing in skills – in those sectors that are high income and high productivity – not just about building lots of houses over green fields,” Philip Cox, chief executive of the Cheshire & Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership, told Place North West.
In its submission, for which the deadline is today, the LEP details a series of asks from Government, which it believes could help the area to ramp up productivity and economic growth, particularly in the face of the headwinds caused by Covid-19.
The LEP published a strategy last week to create jobs and build a fairer, greener economy to recover from the pandemic, and set up the Cheshire & Warrington Sustainable and Inclusive Growth Commission to implement that vision.
Today’s submission sets out the practical steps for doing this, over the five-year CSR period to 2025. Cheshire & Warrington’s main asks are split into three groups:
1) Sustainable and clean energy
- £200m for HyNet – the planned hydrogen and carbon capture project in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. The low carbon hydrogen production plant, which is awaiting planning permission, would be built on a 160-acre site owned by Essar Oil UK, close to the company’s oil refinery in Stanlow. It is a key part of the work being undertaken by the North West Hydrogen Alliance to develop a hydrogen economy in the region and help decarbonise the high carbon-emitting oil and nuclear activities in Warrington and elsewhere in the sub-region. The Government has already pledged £800m towards the project.
2) A healthy economy
- £40m for the Medicines Discovery Catapult – a national science incubation network based at Bruntwood’ SciTech’s 1m sq ft Alderley Park life sciences and business complex. The catapult was selected in April to host a laboratory for Covid-19 testing, and it is working alongside companies, academics and regulators to develop new ways of discovering and using medicines. Funding from Whitehall would be invested alongside the LEP’s own £5m contribution and £15m from Bruntwood SciTech to expand the catapult’s activities
- Help to establish a £50m life sciences fund – which would be the second chapter of the LEP’s existing £45m Life Sciences Fund, which is currently around £31m invested and which the Government supported with an initial £20m of seed funding in 2015. A second fund would continue to support growing businesses in the region’s life sciences sector.
3) Building an inclusive economy
- £30m a year to expand regional skills training programmes – including the ‘Pledge’ and ‘Accelerate’ initiatives, both of which rely on European funding, which is set to end due to Brexit. Pledge is a careers development scheme that links up local employers with schools, colleges, charities, youth and community groups, while Accelerate is an upskilling programme that currently only supports employed people, and the LEP would like to expand it to cover those who are unemployed, too. The initiatives receive between £15-£20m each year, but the LEP wants to expand this to £30m annually over the CST period to 2025.
- Whitehall permission to use ‘TIF’ (tax-increment financing) to develop a commercial hub, possibly an enterprise zone, around the planned Crewe High Speed Rail 2 station – TIF is a method of local authority financing that uses anticipated increases in business rates and other tax revenues to finance immediate infrastructure and other improvements and developments that would generate those increased revenues. Cheshire & Warrington wants to develop a ‘High Speed Corridor’ across Crewe, Middlewich and Winsford comprising a cluster of businesses that could take advantage of the new rail link and associated Northern Powerhouse transport connectivity.
The Government is expected to decide how to spend its budget, allocating funding for projects across the country, in the first quarter of next year.
Cox said: “This is our submission ahead of the CSR, explaining our priorities and essentially saying, we – the Cheshire & Warrington sub-region – are a fantastic bet for the Government to spend its money, and here’s how we would achieve our vision for fast, and long-term, sustainable economic growth.”