New business development zones can unlock investment in district

With 15,000 registered companies, 60,000 employees, and 170 countries represented, DMCC is the four-time winner of the Global Free Zone of the Year award. Headquartered in Dubai, the 200-hectare development is believed to be the world’s most interconnected free zone. But once upon a time, DMCC was just an idea: the local government wanted to provide the physical, market and financial infrastructure to establish Emirates as a hub for global commodities trade. The Dubai Multi Commodities Centre was founded in 2002 and the rest, as we like to say, is history.

I’m mentioning this example because it shows just what you can achieve with a big vision. While we might not have the same sovereign financial firepower as the Emirates, we do have the globally connected district, the young and enterprising population, the distinctive offer and the significant growth potential. We’ve got a £10bn economy, 18,000 businesses and 200,000 employees. We’re lucky to have many successful manufacturing companies and a growing number of start-ups – 261 per month – and good survival rates among these business births. Bradford is also home to a healthy number of large employers, such as Morrisons, Yorkshire Water and Yorkshire Building Society, which support and develop local supply chains.

But, as with most post-industrial towns and cities in the North of England, the district has experienced decades of underinvestment in the built environment. The heritage mills that made us famous might offer that premium raw, exposed brick look so coveted by young urban professionals, but these great buildings were originally constructed for vertical manufacturing and businesses in sectors like engineering, chemicals, energy and food manufacturing need crisp, clean and modern single-story production sites across larger plots.

This is the reason why Bradford Council is exploring new ways of unlocking the district’s economic potential through the creation of new business development zones. These will be in the areas at the heart of the old industrial revolution: Bowling Back Lane in Bradford, Salts Mill Road through to Dockfield Road in Shipley and Dalton Lane in Keighley. The plan is to investigate how land in these areas is currently used and identify opportunities to bring forward redevelopment of under-utilised or poor quality sites or expansion of existing premises to maximise site utilisation.

The council will also examine the potential of promoting infrastructure investments in these areas including public realm, green spaces, major highways improvements, new street lighting, parking provision, public transport networks, walking and cycling routes and signage. Achieving these investments will turbo charge the performance of key employment areas in Bradford to make them more attractive and efficient locations for businesses to operate and invest in.

Bradford Chamber of Commerce is involved and will work with the council to explore collaborative initiatives to boost productivity and growth within the business development zones and wider district. Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, portfolio holder for regeneration, planning and transport, said: “We are looking at how to boost investment and employment. We want to help businesses unlock untapped potential by boosting their productivity while bringing under-utilised industrial land back into use.”

Mike Cartwright, of Bradford Chamber, added: “Our members employ many thousands of Bradford residents and many of the companies wish to grow and create new jobs. Additional industrial capacity will add expansion so we are delighted that Bradford council is looking at boosting both the productivity and availability of industrial land. We look forward to working with the council to develop innovative new approaches to boosting investment, growth and jobs.”

In fast-growing places like China, Korea, Singapore and of course Dubai, business development zones are treated as important tools in national or regional economic and industrial development agendas. Douglas Zhihua Zeng, a senior economist at the World Bank, has argued these zones can be effective instruments to promote industrialisation and structural transformation, so long as certain ingredients can be put in place.

Global good practices include sound legal and institutional frameworks, strong government commitment, high quality infrastructure, careful planning and design, ongoing skills training and specialised education, continuous technological learning, innovation and upgrading, deep connectivity locally, regionally, nationally and internationally, positive social development, and environmental sustainability.

That’s all doable from my perspective. The council’s mapping process will take 18-24 months. Delivery of development of these sites is expected by 2024-25, just a few years away. Who knows, it could be Bradford winning all the foreign direct investment awards in the next decade.

• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley FC

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