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George Osborne: ‘I’m Backing Birmingham’

George Osborne: ‘I’m Backing Birmingham’

🕔22.Feb 2013

georgeThe Chancellor of the Exchequer has given his personal backing to an initiative that places Birmingham at the forefront of a Government drive to reignite struggling regional economies.

George Osborne made it clear that he would do everything possible to support the new city centre enterprise zone – a unique investment vehicle that, it is claimed, will deliver 40,000 jobs through regenerating 26 key sites including Paradise Circus and the Children’s Hospital.

Mr Osborne heaped fulsome praise on the city council and the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, the two bodies responsible for overseeing and running the zone.

Birmingham had “got its act together” in a way that other cities had not, the Chancellor said.

The enterprise zone is the latest example in a long list of efforts over many years to breathe new life into Birmingham’s under-performing economy.

Previous schemes have proved largely unsuccessful, partly it is argued through a lack of funding and also because of Treasury reluctance to hand power and budgets to local decision makers.

But the chances of success on this occasion appear to be far greater judging by the Chancellor’s close involvement and the Government’s insistence that it believes in devolution.

The zone is closely allied to the Greater Birmingham Project, a study being overseen by Lord Heseltine examining how £60 billion of Whitehall and European budgets could be handed directly to Local Enterprise Partnerships across the country.

Lord Heseltine, who was with the Chancellor for the enterprise zone launch at Birmingham Town Hall, is expected to publish his report next month setting out in detail how the Greater Birmingham area would benefit from devolved budgets.

The enterprise zone comes with significant benefits for private industry and will also benefit from the economic stimulus expected to be triggered by the planned arrival of HS2 high speed rail in Birmingham in 2026.

Companies looking to move to the city centre will benefit from fast-tracked and simplified planning processes as well as business rates relief and free superfast broadband. The LEP will be able to create its own income stream by borrowing £128 million against the uplift in business rates.

In addition, £76 million of Government money is being made available to facilitate the delivery of key investment sites. Most of the cash, £61 million, will be used to unlock the first phase of the £450 million Paradise Circus redevelopment finally enabling the council to make a start on a project that has been on the drawing board for 13 years.

A number of other significant regeneration schemes that the council has failed to make much progress on since 2000 feature on the list of 26 enterprise zone sites.

These include: Arena Central; Snowhill phase two and three; the former Post and Mail building; the NatWest Tower in Colmore Row; Birmingham Children’s Hospital; the Wholesale Markets site; the Beorma Quarter in Digbeth ; Eastside Locks.

Locations selected for promoting creative and digital industries in Digbeth include: Warwick Bar; Typhoo Wharf; Great Barr Street; Custard Factory; Connaught Square; Smithfield Court.

The zone also takes in parts of the Jewellery Quarter, Eastside and the Birmingham Science Park.

Mr Osborne told 200 guests at the launch that he was determined to reverse past mistakes which had seen governments “put all bets” on London and the South-east even though doing so would never have produced a sustainable model of growth.

Greater Birmingham LEP chairman Andy Street said: “The 26 enterprise zone sites can be transformational for the Birmingham economy. This is a big idea for Birmingham. It is a big idea for the UK.”

Commercial property experts at the launch were invited by Mr Street to “go out and sell Birmingham  around the world as a regeneration location”.

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