Mon 20th Oct 2014
Oct 14: Northern Ireland as an Enterprise Zone
For several years now the NI Chamber has been an advocate of the potential of conferring upon the entire region of Northern Ireland the status of an Enterprise Zone; we returned to this theme in February of this year when we met with Finance Minister Simon Hamilton who at that time had just returned from a fact finding visit to Wales where a number of regions enjoy Enterprise Zone status.
An Enterprise Zone is an area in which special policies to encourage economic growth and development are implemented. They can include tax concessions, infrastructure incentives and reduced regulations to attract investments and private companies into the zones.
Some progress was made in this regard in the budget in Spring of this year when Coleraine was designated by Chancellor George Osborne to be an Enterprise Zone. That status will facilitate the establishment of a hi tech data centre taking advantage of the transatlantic broadband connection Project Kelvin and making use of enhanced capital allowances to attract a £20m private capital fund investment. That is positive and exciting news for Coleraine and we hope that the region as a whole will see the benefit in terms of investment and employment.
More recently, the Managing Director of Belfast International Airport, Graham Keddie, confirmed the facility is planning to seek Enterprise Zone status in order to develop land around Aldergrove.
There are different features attached to ‘Enterprise Zones’ in different jurisdictions but we believe that the Assembly has within its existing remit the ability to make a difference through the use of the existing devolved powers. For example an Enterprise Zone could include, as a starter: a fast track planning process; 100 per cent relief on regional and district rates for the first three years for new-starts and for a three-year period for companies with expansion plans.
Those powers lie within our already up and running Government Departments. That puts an onus on the Assembly rather than the UK Government, and adopting such an approach would signal a maturity and a willingness for us to embrace and respond to our own economic challenges and opportunities.
The conferring of Enterprise Zone status would go hand in hand with a reduction in Corporation Tax and could see Northern Ireland become a hub for new and expanding local businesses and a magnet for international investment.
As we collectively seek the devolution of power over Corporation Tax, we urge our political leaders to embrace the opportunity potential on offer through Enterprise Zone status.