More than 400 new jobs have been created at the Blackpool Airport and Hillhouse Thornton enterprise zones – and hundreds more are in the pipeline.
The Fylde coast is set for business take off, according to Northern Powerhouse Minister Andrew Percy, who spoke of his hopes for the sites, as he signed a memorandum of understanding to officially launch them.
After addressing more than 200 Lancashire business leaders and stakeholders from across the county at a Lancashire Enterprise Partnership conference in Burnley he visited Blackpool Airport to sign the memorandum which officially launches the two sites.
Enterprise zone status offers businesses huge incentives to move their operation to the sites at Squires Gate and the former ICI site on the banks of the Wyre.
Rob Green, from the Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre Economic Development Company, charged with the masterminding of the two zones, said since their launch in April they had already created 400 jobs and 25 new businesses have relocated to the Blackpool site alone.
The first to move in , hi-tech springs maker Force Technology, started with three people and now has 20, with a view to going on to create 150 in coming years.
He said the Squires Gate business park development had stalled, due to road access issues and the state of the economy in recent years but as soon as the enterprise zone status was announced interest rocketed.
He said: “It is a great start but there is a lot more work to be done to realise the potential.”
Minister Andrew Percy said: “Enterprise Zones are very attractive to businesses.
“Lancashire has four and it is absolutely vital that they are all working together under one brand. That is vital for international investors.”
Asked whether the creation of the zones would simply mean the displacement of jobs from elsewhere in the region, he said that was not the case in his experience.
He said: “If that was the case we would not have seen the increase in employment that we have today from the existing zone in the North.”
Today, the Government announced new figures showing that across the North, nine Enterprise Zones have attracted £1.3bn of private sector investment over the past four years and around 9,000 jobs.
“Today’s figures show that Northern Powerhouse Enterprise Zones are attracting the skilled workers businesses need to help them take on the world with an extra 800 jobs in just three months – and with eight more zones due to open for business by 2017, long may that continue.
“Lancashire, and Blackpool and Hillhouse in particular, have this extraordinary potential to create jobs and boost the economy.”
At the Conference in Burnley, he heard about the untied message that the county was selling to the rest of the country and the world about its potential for industry and innovation.
He gave an update on progress regarding the Northern Powerhouse initiative and highlighted the key role Lancashire can play in helping to boost the economic prosperity of the whole of the North.
He said it was not a case of Lancashire fighting the big cities of Manchester and Liverpool, but rather the county playing its part in driving the powerhouse, with all the industry it can offer.
He said: “Healthy local rivalry is fine but people need to change their point of reference.
“A successful Lancashire is good for Manchester and Merseyside and vice versa.”
He was joined on the tour by Blackpool Council leader Simon Blackburn, who is also chairman of the shadow Lancashire Combined Authority, as well as Edwin Booth, chairman of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership, and Jennifer Mein, leader of Lancashire County Council.
They shared the latest details on the proposed Combined Authority, and discussed the major strategic and economic priorities, opportunities and challenges which Lancashire faces.
The conference also saw the Lancashire LEP become the first Enterprise Partnership in the country to sign-up to the Northern Powerhouse Partnership.
This means the LEP will join a diverse range of companies and organisations who have formally committed to work with government to help the North achieve its full potential, including generating new jobs and securing more investment for the whole of the Northern region.
The minister said the Government was still fully committed to the project and said: “Building the Northern Powerhouse is central to our plans to create an economy that works for everyone.
“We’re backing the North with the investment and powers it needs to fulfil its huge untapped potential and I’m pleased to see businesses here, working alongside the Lancashire LEP, are pledging their support.”
Coun Simon Blackburn said the signing of the memorandum to put the official stamp on the two enterprise zones was one of the biggest steps to secure the future of the coast’s economy for generations to come.
He said: “This is hugely significant.
“We have had an opportunity today to showcase everything fantastic about Lancashire and the Fylde coast that Lancashire people like me and the readers of The Gazette already know about.
“We demonstrated that to the minister, top civil servants and the private sector.
“This is a huge opportunity for growth not least in Blackpool and the surrounding area.
“The enterprise zone has already created around 400 jobs and we look to create 3,000 over the lifetime of the project.
“Having that dual offer of the aviation and energy sectors with the airport right next to them presents a fantastic opportunity for growth and jobs in the future.”
But he added that it was key that Lancashire presents a united front to play a leading role in the Northern Powerhouse and that would include having an elected mayor to unlock Government funding worth up to £1bn.
Edwin Booth, chairman of the Lancashire LEP, said: “The Lancashire Enterprise Partnership is delighted to be the first LEP in the country to confirm its position as an official Northern Powerhouse partner and to play a full and active role in the Powerhouse initiative.
“We wanted to take mark this occasion by inviting the Minister to Lancashire so he can see for himself the continuing, credible progress of the Lancashire LEP and partners are making across a wide range of sectors and markets.
“We also wanted to use the Minister’s visit to mark the launch of the Lancashire narrative, a series of clear, engaging messages and themes which capture Lancashire’s world-class offer.
“The narrative, which has been shaped and driven by the people and businesses of Lancashire itself, is designed to give all partners and stakeholders a succinct, distinctive and compelling Lancashire story which can be used to promote the county’s assets, celebrate its successes, and highlight its investment potential at every possible opportunity.”
The minister was given a tour of the construction site where Blackpool and The Fylde College’s £9.8m Energy College is being built.
Daryl Platt, Executive Director of Commercial Development at Blackpool and The Fylde College, said: “We estimate that the college will safeguard and create 3,180 jobs and have 1,000 students.
“It is due to open in September 2017 and will have some of the most advanced training facilities.” He said it would mainly cater for the renewable energy sector but would also be the centre for onshore oil and gas.
He said that anyone wanting to work in that industry had to have HSE training before they can step on site so the college was hoping to be the main source for that.
He said: “Currently for the off shore industry we train tens of thousands of people a year.”
Coun Peter Gibson, leader of Wyre Council said the potential for the Hillhouse site with its focus on hi-tech chemicals, polymers and energy was on an international scale.
He said: “We have had two delegations from China and are arranging two more coming up.
“They are looking at the opportunities for a power station on the Hillhouse site.”
Arran Cameron, from Hillhouse site owners NPL Group ,said that interest in the site had galvanised since the announcement of the enterprise zone status.
He said: “Interest has grown 10 fold since the announcement. It is a huge success story in such a short space of time.”
But he added that support for infrastructure work was vital and that although work to improve the A585 was under way more was needed and they would like to see an increase in urgency.