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News feature: Enterprise zones 'ridiculous'

Bid to boost local businesses with tax breaks will not benefit whole country, say critics of the policy

Architects have been sceptical in their response to government plans to stimulate growth through 22 enterprise zones (EZ), which will spring up across the country from April next year.

Last month, 11 new zones were announced at sites including Cornwall, East Anglia and Oxfordshire – an additional wave to the 11 already unveiled in the 2011 budget, covering districts in London, Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle.

The zones promise simplified planning rules and favourable business rates, in a bid to boost local communities. But architects have questioned the scattergun approach and urged the government to direct its help across the whole country.

·Simpler planning rules
·Business rate discount worth up to £275,000
·Superfast broadband
Start in April 2012

Tim O’Rourke, co-founder of Poole-based Mor Architecture, said: ‘The idea of helping businesses start up with low tax and low regulations is a good one. But it is ridiculous that the government is only focusing on chosen places.

‘I started my practice here, having moved out of London, because there was a gap in the market. Now I am going to be missing out on the tax breaks by being in the “wrong” location.’

The zones, which will officially begin operation in April 2012, will benefit from a business rate discount worth up to £275,000 over a five year period, and superfast broadband.

Yet Ryder Architecture’s chief executive Peter Buchan, remains sceptical. He said: ‘Why can’t we incentivise industry as a whole?’

‘Many of the original enterprise zones encouraged the wrong type of development, with big office parks and retail areas. I’d like to see mixed-use sites.’

The simplified planning rules for these new zones will take the form of local development orders. These allow planning authorities to establish permissions for specific classes, types or developments in a specified area, as well as defining parameters for design guidance and Section 106 agreements.

But Buchan fears architects may still have to work within tight guidelines. He added: ‘Although the zones promise simplified planning rules, could they actually be too prescriptive? ’

Peter Anderson-Beck, head of the Aire Valley Leeds programme within the larger Leeds City Region EZ, explained their approach to planning. He said: ‘We will look at removing consent for individual buildings, and specific infrastructure requirements, such as a new road linking a development.

‘Public transport, such as Park and Ride, will also be covered as the Leeds zone is made up of four sites about 4km from the city centre. We’ll allow greater freedom on change of use and extensions to existing premises, and assist telecoms generation.’

The profession is still wary of mistakes made in the past. In August 1981 Lord Heseltine offered huge tax breaks to firms that developed run-down sites, Canary Wharf one of the more successful. Sites in Glasgow and the north of England were less so. Even in London, architects point to developments that sacrificed quality for quantity.

Kieran Larkin, analyst at urban policy research unit Centre for Cities, said: ‘Many of the developments at that time were low-quality, particularly in London’s Docklands, with a lot of ugly, warehouse-type schemes.’

The 22 Enterprise Zones

The latest 11 zones:

Rotherwas - Hereford
Northampton Waterside
Newquay Aerohub

Alconbury Airfield - near Huntington
Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft
Daresbury Science and Innovation Zone
- in North Warrington
Humber Waterside - in Kingston upon Hull
Discovery Park in Sandwich and West Essex Enterprise Zone in Harlow
Science Vale Enterprise Zone
– Oxfordshire
MIRA Technology Park in Hinckley – Leicestershire 
The Solent Enterprise Zone at Daedalus Airfield in Gosport

The first 11 zones:

Birmingham and Solihull
North East
Black Country
Tees Valley
Mersey Waters –
led by Liverpool City Region
Manchester Airport
London -
Royal Docks

Other comments:

Richard Jones, managing partner of Jackson Coles: ‘The simplified planning regime combined with the economic environment will mean that cost will become the pre-eminent factor in the development equation, and the challenge for architects and project teams will therefore be to win the argument that good design does not necessarily mean higher cost. The business rate discount and other measures are helpful to a point but are not the radical tax-break medicine administered to the 1980s enterprise zones which kickstarted regeneration in a major way in Docklands, Manchester, Sunderland and elsewhere. It’s tough outside London. I’m doubtful that the measures afforded by the Government this time around are going to make enough of a difference.’





London - Royal Docks


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