West Suffolk: Luring companies away from Cambridge could be key to region’s economic success

The A11. Picture: Mike Page The A11. Picture: Mike Page

Thursday, May 22, 2014
9:39 AM

Luring companies away from Cambridge could be the key to boosting business in west Suffolk, according to a major new report.

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That was the early conclusion reached by consultants SQW for a project commissioned by Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury councils, working under the banner of West Suffolk, into what role the public sector could play in encouraging economic growth.

The findings claim Bury St Edmunds and Haverhill’s high occupancy levels and proximity to Cambridge leave them best placed in the region for sites of “incubators” fostering growth, while Forest Heath should be marketed as a “cost-effective” alternative to Cambridge.

Alaric Pugh, St Edmundsbury’s cabinet member for economic growth, said: “This study is part of that evidence building that will help us attract investment, and create centres were fledgling businesses will flourish, expanding our employment offer.

“The ability to attract new businesses, to help new ones start-up, and aid existing ones to grow and prosper, is one of our key priorities as west Suffolk councils.

“It creates and sustains jobs which means people then have money to spend in shops, cafés, leisure and other activities ­– all the things that make a local economy work and flourish.”

Commuting patterns show that 28% of west Suffolk’s working people commute to places outside the area – half of them to Cambridge – making west Suffolk an ideal place for attracting businesses in Cambridge’s thriving life sciences and technology sectors.

Among the key sites for attracting such companies is the new £100million Haverhill Research Park, while the Suffolk Business Park on Bury’s Moreton Hall estate is also identified as a good site for supporting business.

Over in Forest Heath, drawing on Newmarket’s position as the home of horse racing could be used as a catalyst for becoming a hub of the equine industry.

Improving links between west Suffolk and Cambridge was recently identified as a key economic driver by the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough local enterprise partnership (LEP), with the LEP and both local authorities backing large-scale infrastructure projects to help the region’s economy.

These include the eastern relief road in Bury, the A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon improvement scheme, the A11 Fiveways to Thetford upgrade and improving links from Haverhill and Newmarket to Cambridge.

SQW’s research, which should be finalised in July, found the rate of new businesses was better in west Suffolk than the county as a whole, but worse than the average for East Cambridgeshire and the whole country.

While the number of active enterprises fell by 4.1% in Forest Heath between 2004 and 2012, it went up by 2.3% in St Edmundsbury over the same time period – meaning West Suffolk had 6,445 businesses in total in both years.

Fifteen consultees have had some input into the work by SQW so far, including Suffolk County Council, the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust, West Suffolk College and the New Anglia (LEP).

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