Viewpoint - 20/10/2022

Local Authorities in limbo following investment zones uncertainty

Local authorities hoping rush to pursue investment zone status is not a wasted effort

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With the future of Liz Truss’ much feted investment zones (IZs) now hanging in the balance following the Prime Minister’s resignation, local authorities have been left wondering whether a boost to their development ambitions will ever arrive.

Upon their announcement last month, IZs were met with considerable enthusiasm by local authorities. According to research from property consultancy, Lambert Smith Hampton (LSH), some 41 authorities in England have, to date, formally confirmed an expression of interest to host IZs, with many more expected to follow suit.

The expressions of interest for IZ status to date cover over 220 development sites, regeneration areas and growth corridors, alongside vital new infrastructure including ports, green energy production, innovation parks, industrial and commercial space.

To date just two authorities have rejected the notion of IZs outright, with Oxfordshire County Council and Shropshire Council deciding not to pursue opportunities further.

Dr Steve Norris, head of Planning, Regeneration + Infrastructure (PR+I) at LSH, said: “Though the notion of tax incentives to encourage development is nothing new, the decentralised, locally-led nature of IZs could help “turbo-charge” investment. This view appears to be shared by authorities, many of which have been quick to throw their hat in the ring in a bid to accelerate regeneration initiatives.

“Opportunities for local government to secure greater fiscal autonomy and prioritised access to funding are few and far between and not to be passed up lightly. But in a bid to attract new funding, authorities must be mindful of displacing investment from more complex sites, especially in town centres. The Thatcher government’s Enterprise Zones (EZs) in the 1980’s remain a stark illustration of the laws of unintended consequences, as they helped fuel the growth of regional shopping centres, displacing investment and economic activity from many UK towns and cities, and some are still struggling with the consequences 30 years on”.

Though no limit to the number, scope and duration of IZs has been announced to date, given the volume of proposals, it is likely that those that are more ready to deliver and have demonstrated the greatest economic impact, will be given priority and taken through to detailed delivery planning stage. The precise number of zones will depend on these factors, as well as their overall geographical spread and the costs of the programme, in the context of the government’s fluctuating fiscal plan. 

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