Bid to attract investors to Sandwich Enterprise Zone at Pfizer site
THE drive to secure investment and attract new businesses to the Pfizer site, which gained Enterprise Zone status last week, will extend to Europe.
Sandwich MP Laura Sandys has vowed to get on with the job of promoting the site – renamed Discovery Park when it was put on the property market in June – by travelling across the Channel to talk to the "supply chain".
Her pledge came after Chancellor George Osborne, Science Minister David Willetts and Decentralisation Minister Greg Clarke visited Pfizer last week to announce the Enterprise Zone status.
Mrs Sandys said: "This is the beginning of regeneration in east Kent, not the end.
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"It is now incumbent on us to attract businesses. There are opportunities in renewables, pharmaceuticals, food science, even aerospace.
"I am planning a trip to Sweden, and others across Europe, and I will be talking to the supply chain, to the renewables sector and I will sell east Kent.
"This is about not sitting back now we need acceleration."
Mr Willetts has also pledged the backing of the UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS). Speaking last week he said: "UKTI and BIS will work with Discovery Park to get overseas investment and business interest in the site. The serious work now begins."
Enterprise Zone status means the 86-hectare campus will offer firms business rate relief, tax breaks, simplified planning rules and access to superfast broadband.
The aim is to keep the site as a life sciences hub when pharmaceutical giant Pfizer leaves Sandwich next year and sheds 2,500 posts. In June the US firm agreed to leave a core business of 350 pharmaceutical science employees to create an "anchor business" at Discovery Park.
It is hoped the incentives will help to create 190 new companies and provide 2,500 new jobs. Kent MP Greg Clarke says those new businesses will ideally be headed by young people and former Pfizer employees.
He said: "Giving freedom from business rates is a big attraction to companies, especially small and start-up businesses in the field of science and research.
"We hope to continue the tradition of scientific research at Sandwich and benefit from the skills the area already has. It would be mad to lose those skills.
"Young people with start-up businesses could also move in and benefit from being free of business rates and bureaucracy and having high-speed broadband.
Mr Clarke added: "By coming to Discovery Park growing high-tech companies will be able to get skills from people of excellence and can work in an exciting, scientific environment with leading equipment. Clusters of related businesses will be able to take off and establish momentum.
"In ten years' time we will be able to look here and not just think of Pfizer but see a world centre of excellence for scientific research.
"Becoming an Enterprise Zone has put in place the conditions for this area to prosper. It is a new beginning for Kent in terms of its scientific reputation and it is an integral part of the country's drive for growth."
New businesses will be able to move in once Pfizer completes its exit next year.
According to the Sandwich Economic Development Task Force chairman, Kent County Council leader Paul Carter, at least three interested parties have inquired about taking on the site.
He said: "There are two or three significant property investment companies looking at the site and at least two of them have done exciting things elsewhere in the country and around the world."
Pfizer Sandwich site head Annette Doherty added that there was "lots of interest" in the park and that she was working hard on negotiations.
Dover District Council leader Paul Watkins says the next step for regenerating the district is to apply for tourism funding and to hopefully be successful in a Regional Growth Fund (RGF) bid for the area.
KCC had put in a bid for £10 million to pay towards better transport links in east Kent. A government announcement on the successful bids is expected in late Autumn.
Councillor Watkins said: "There are opportunities now to start bidding for tourism funding. It would really pull the whole lot together, with the RGF application and high-speed train electrification from Ashford to Ramsgate bringing fast connections to Deal and Sandwich. We are four-fifths of the way there.This is a significant national designation.
"This will bring a whole range of excellent opportunities for the future of the area. We will work with Pfizer and interested parties in developing proposals for the Local Development Order, which will help to provide greater flexibility and to simplify the planning processes.
Mr Watkins added that RGF funds, and any development at Betteshanger, would provide additional business support and opportunities for growth in east Kent.