Blackpool Airport's enterprise zone is set for an exciting but crucial year in 2021

Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone is set for one of its most crucial years as a raft of important projects are set to land in 2021.

Friday, 1st January 2021, 3:45 pm
Updated Tuesday, 5th January 2021, 8:30 am

The huge £75m scheme is set to create 5,000 jobs over its 25 year lifespan and, despite a year hampered by coronavirus, has now delivered 1,500 jobs towards that total.

Ground work is under way and steelwork will soon be sprouting up for a new high tech manufacturing plant, for carbon fibre specialists Multi-Ply which is to relocate from its existing premises at Inskip and create more jobs as the business expands.

The 400,000 sqft building will be the second largest on the site, but there is space for even larger buildings to be built if demand allows.

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Ground work has begun on a new 400,000 sqft building for the carbon fibre company Multi-Ply at the Blackpool Airport Enterprise zone, just one of the major projects to be seen in 2021

Work on the new sports pitches has begun with grass sown and, once planning permission as been agreed, building work on the changing rooms and clubhouse facility is set to start ready for the start of the next football season in September.

Talks are in progress with four new possible companies to move to the site and although in the early stages, one could result in another 200,000sq ft building being constructed.

But the crucial development which will open up even more of the zone for employment is the new entrance road on the east side near Common Edge Road.

Plans for the new gateway have been delayed and changed from a roundabout to a traffic light junction. Planning permission is not due to go in until later in 2021 which has disappointed some businesses on the site who say the single existing access is a bottle neck at rush hour times.

Councillor Mark Smith and head of enterprise zones Rob Green

Rob Green, Head of Enterprise Zones, said 2021 would be an important year.

He said: "The big thing is the Multi-Ply development and work has begun on that now. It's nice to see the first significant new build on the site. It really is a innovative carbon fibre moulding company supplying items for such things as mammogram machines, but the scope for other products there is enormous, they could go into the aviation industry, telecomms automotive with those products.

"It's going to be a big building, the second largest on the enterprise zone. It sets a standard for quality of buildings and our ambition for the nature and quality of jobs on the enterprise zone.

"The other major development is that the new sports facilities will come into use. The grass pitches have all been seeded and they are maturing now until next September. We are just in for planing consent for the changing rooms. But there have been some highways issues and issues around drainage. The ground has been compacted so much. When we had the big storms in late October early November some of the water ran off that towards division lane.

An aerial image of the whole enterprise zone

"But we are dealing with that problem and are spending money cleaning more of the drainage ditches in that area even though it is outside the Blackpool remit because we want to make sure there isn't an ongoing issue."

He said progress had been affected by coronavirus but also by some challenging site conditions, with sand below ground and the difficulty of developing on the line of one of the old runways.

On the major issue of the new access road, he said: "Planing permission will go in later in the year for the gateway road linking Amy Johnson Way to Common Edge Road. We will be doing a public consultation this year on the tweaked masterplan. It is difficult to do at the moment with coronavirus, we will probably do it through the website and write to people in the community. But face to face engagement would be much better."

The original plan was to have a roundabout junction south of the cricket club, but after consultation with the community the idea now is to have a traffic light junction to the north of the club. The idea is that the scheme pushes traffic away from School Lane towards the new M55 link road when that is built. But they have up to £10m allocated from the Towns Fund to deal with that.

Piling and utilities work is taking place on the east side of the enterprise zone on previously open wasteland

Despite the difficulties of 2020 he said many more new firms were looking to come to the zone.

He said: "We have a good pipeline of enquiries. There's probably four big enquiries from businesses that we are dealing with. If they all came off that would be another 200,000 sqft space to be built.over the next 18 months. They may well not all happen, but it is encouraging that even with the lockdown and the uncertainty of Brexit, businesses are still looking to grow.

"We also have two or three interests from people who want to build aircraft hangers for private aircraft concerns at the airport for general aviation.

"The real good news is that the enterprise zone has resulted in about 1,500 jobs in total, we have lost some jobs some business have moved out of the zone, not many, but there will always be a churn at any business park.

"The trans Atlantic internet cable came ashore and that will give us a completely new USP for targeting businesses the growth in data and use of data is exponentially increasing year on year. Everything is going to be run an controlled by data centres and storage. It gives us that very fast connection to Europe and The US.

"The Gaming sector particularly like low latency and also film and TV, which Blackpool has always been quite strong in, and it will allow for editing sites plus online editing and more film and TV production activity in the future.

Private Label Nutrition boss James Wilson, seen here second left with Richard Richmond and Andy Clarkson, says building the new access road is crucial for the growth of the zone

"It will be a year of great potential. We will face lots of challenges. If development was easy it would not need the support of local authorities and enterprise boards, but I am optimistic that next year will bring fantastic opportunities.

"We have seen ARC open their impressive building and Love Expo are finishing the build of their facilities. Even at the old Squires Gate Industrial Estate, (the former Wellington Bomber sheds) Euro Properties have quietly got on and done work there. They are creating jobs, its meeting a particular market. They lost B&M Bargains at the start of the year but they are bringing spaces that have been out of use for a long time back into use."

Coun Mark Smith, Cabinet Member for Business Enterprise and Job Creation said: “Excellent progress is being made on the Enterprise Zone with a lot of work being completed behind the scenes to get to this exciting phase of active site development in 2021.

"A revision of the masterplan is also in progress which offers options for new commercial development plots, for which we are talking to several businesses looking to expand their businesses. 2021 will continue to build on our successes so far, attracting more growth and expansion to the site, further strengthening the inward investment into Blackpool and providing more skilled jobs for the local population.”

The zone has been a success so far, but one business leader at the site says that the second entry and exit was vital and should be pushed through as quickly as possible.

James Wilson from Private Label Nutrition, which now has 35 staff having grown from its original building off Amy Johnson Way, says that it will soon need even bigger premises.

He said: "We first came to the zone three and a half years ago to start manufacturing tablets and capsules and just over a year ago we moved to larger premises.

"We now have two shifts running five days a week and have seen a rise in demand this year for vitamins as people think about their health in the pandemic. The enterprise zone has been brilliant for us and the council has been very supportive.

"But businesses operate at a different pace to the public sector and we need to see the site develop more quickly. The second road would be important as there is congestion at certain times of the day especially with the truck servicing the supermarkets. We also need to see more spaces opened up and different sized buildings other than the 800 sq ft or aircraft hangar sized ones that are available.

"In a way it is a shame the old bomber sheds have been sold to EG Group, because by flattening those and building more modern offices and premises there instead it would look more like the entrance to a modern, fresh enterprise zone. I realise the limitations the people in charge have to operate under, but business has a more simplistic view and needs sometimes to have a quicker change of pace."

David Charnley from Love Expo and A Toast in the Post moved his business to the zone in June as the firm had outgrown its previous premises at Chiswick Grove off Preston New Road. He needed a plot of land for a purpose built unit - 12,000 sq ft which his exhibitions stand firm is moving into now and which 40 per cent of the space has been rented out to another firm Polycover.

He said the future of the site was going to be very exciting, particularly when the new entrance road is constructed.

He said: "This move has been 100 per cent the right move for us. The location is better than other options to get to the motorway and the council has been very supportive throughout.

"There is a lot going for the enterprise zone, plenty going on already and when we get that new road it will open up the whole of the land on the eastern side for development. That road is very important, although I understand that its development must have been been hampered by Covid.

"We are feeling a little bit out on a limb at the moment, so we need other buildings and businesses to form a community. With Covid hitting the exhibitions industry very hard, we are having to do most of the work on the unit ourselves, but my wife Jane and I have launched a Covid-friendly business, Toast in the Post, where people can send a greeting, message and card and a drink to loved ones around the country."

Michelle Turnbull from the Barking Bakery which moved to the site last year to grow the business said the success she had seen in 2020 could not have been achieved without being part of the zone.

Since then the company which makes treats such as cakes and muffins for dogs, has recruited ten new staff and now employs over 20 people in full and part-time roles at the bakery.

The baked goods are distributed through key outlets including Pets at Home, The Range, Booths and Ocado as well as independent pet shops and garden centres and online direct to the public.

She said: "It helped our business 100 per cent. Where we were before we could not expand. We could not afford the high rents, business rates and council tax on larger properties there, so coming here was life-changing for us.

"It has allowed us to grow due to the lowers costs for five years.

Not only that, it is a great location and when they put the new roads into the site it will be game changing.

"We are now on a business park where we can attract the right customers who can come here and see that it is clean and tidy and well kept.

"There is no way I could have got to where we are today without making that move. Now we are building a media and sales department in our premises which will be ideal for customers to visit. One of my slogans is, 'Welcome to Blackpool home of the Woofin' and because we are unique we want to make it an attraction for people to visit when they are in Blackpool. It will be a very exciting year on the enterprise zone in 2021."

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Michelle Turnbull of Barking Bakery
Ground conditions have been made more difficult by sandy soils and flooding