Enterprise Zone Row in Northern Ireland

Belfast Telegraph

[SoS] Owen Paterson wants to see an enterprise zone, or zones, in Northern Ireland.

George Osborne says he’s “looking forward” to seeing one.

But [finance minister] Sammy Wilson  doesn’t fancy the idea.

A single zone would “not be practical”, he says,

[…”You can’t apply relaxed planning laws across the whole of Northern Ireland. You would have factories up against a residential area. What we have said is that we would like some of the powers of an enterprise zone to apply across Northern Ireland.”…]

while a number of smaller ones would not create any new jobs.

On the face of it, Westminster and Stormont are poles apart.

Part of the apparent rift comes from the question: what exactly is an enterprise zone?

If it means simply creating business-friendly conditions, no politician or businessman would be against that.

But when it means targeted support for areas of need ahead of other parts, the concept becomes more controversial.

There are plenty who think it would work in Northern Ireland, but it’s a model that stirs opposition, with critics claiming the zones simply displace existing businesses to the detriment of other areas.

It is also hard to see how the system in England, which is focused on small, specific sites, could be replicated across the whole of Northern Ireland — not least, as Sammy Wilson points out, because it would create chaos in the planning system.

It’s unlikely that the Secretary of State had this in mind when he spoke of the need for Northern Ireland to keep pace with what’s happening in England, Scotland and Wales. He recently said “some of these ideas” could apply to Northern Ireland.

Crucially, any bid from Northern Ireland would need Treasury approval — and as we’ve seen with the long-running move towards a corporation tax reduction, those purse-strings aren’t easily loosened.

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