A £4m ERDF project to fit fibre broadband within and between Cheshire and Warrington’s science parks is “significantly at risk” of not going ahead due to new application deadlines imposed post-Brexit for EU funding.
A report to Cheshire East Council’s cabinet, due to meet next week, says the business case for the Digital 2020 project has not been submitted yet and officers have until 3 October to finalise plans. Talks are ongoing with Department for Communities & Local Government to finalise the detail. The council’s cabinet members are to vote on a recommendation to delegate powers to Peter Bates, chief operating officer, to speed up the bid.
The £4m project would enable better fibre broadband connectivity for Manchester Science Partnerships’ Alderley Park, University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank, Hartree Centre for computer science at Sci-Tech Daresbury – across the border in Halton but working in partnership with Cheshire, the rest of Daresbury comes under the Liverpool City Region EU programme – Patrizia’s Birchwood Park in Warrington, home to a significant nuclear sector cluster, and Thornton Science Park, part of the University of Chester’s estate outside Ellesmere Port.
The aim of the project is to “make these assets more readily available to businesses and researchers, enhance research and innovation infrastructure, and encourage business investment in collaborative research.”
The loss of the funding for the project would be a blow to the Cheshire Science Corridor Enterprise Zone designated by former chancellor George Osborne in last year’s Autumn Statement and created on 1 April 2016.
New chancellor Philip Hammond says only approved projects rubber-stamped before this year’s Autumn Statement, due in November, will be certain of funding.
Also at risk is a £5.2m project to drill a 5km test hole into the ground at Crewe for a geothermal energy source. The public funding is needed to pay for the testing of temperatures and velocity rate of the water at that depth, which would not be commercially viable, before a commercial partner is then appointed if tests are successful.
The council report by Andrew Round, interim executive director for economic growth and prosperity, said: “[These two projects] are significantly at risk, with accelerated timelines imposed by DCLG for submission of full business cases on 3 October. These are likely to proceed to contract before the Autumn Statement however this is not certain. To minimise likelihood we are working with DCLG and the Local Enterprise Partnership to ensure applications are robust.”
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