Blackpool Council has worked hard to turn around the town’s fading reputation and it is not only its leisure attractions that have had an overhaul.
Its commercial property portfolio is being given a boost too, most obviously at Blackpool Airport business park, which is striving to become an energy hub and a place for high-tech businesses to grow, helped in no small part by the enterprise zone status it was granted in April 2016.
The first 12 of up to 50 industrial units are complete at Enterprise Court within the wider Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone. Almost half of the new business units are reserved and further phases of the project on the 3.6-acre site will follow.
Occupiers of the new Enterprise Court units benefit from either a business rate exemption of up to £275,000 over five years or generous enhanced capital allowances. This is helping to drive interest from prospective tenants.
A lack of development activity over the past decade, caused partly by scarcity of land, has also contributed to strong occupier demand, according to Danny Pinkus, partner at Robert Pinkus & Co, the agent instructed to sell the industrial units.
“Initial interest has been very good and we are receiving lots of enquiries,” he says.
Land values have recovered strongly in recent months, having slumped after the financial crash from £300,000 an acre to a low of £100,000, according to Pinkus. “We are seeing a recovery now at £225,000 to £250,000 an acre,” he says. “There’s not much availability and that scarcity has a positive impact on land values.”
Capital values ranging from £80/sq ft to £115/sq ft for units of 750 sq ft are healthy, while rents have risen from £3.50/sq ft to between £5.50/sq ft and £6/sq ft for larger units and have reached £7/sq ft for smaller units, he adds.
In total, the business park has the potential to attract up to 140 new businesses and 3,000 high-tech jobs over the next 25 years, says Rob Green, head of enterprise at Blackpool Fylde & Wyre Economic Development Company (EDC).
“In the first year, we have seen about 38 businesses move in, creating 480 jobs here,” he says. “We’re now in the process of drawing up the masterplan for the site and what we need to do in terms of additional infrastructure to open up more sites.”
We have four years remaining of fiscal incentives and we want to push on and open up larger sites - Rob Green, Blackpool Fylde & Wyre EDC
An operational airport will remain an important factor in the zone’s success but some aviation facilities may be relocated closer to the runway to make room for more development.
“We have four years remaining of fiscal incentives and we want to push on with opening up larger sites in the next 12 months,” says Green. “We will also be looking at an eastern access road to the business park as it is currently constrained by a single point of access.”
Green believes confidence is growing. “One of the encouraging things we have seen is the revival of speculative development,” he says. “Two existing buildings - Avro House and Amy Johnson House - have been split into smaller accommodation.
“Both are completely let now, which is also encouraging. Four of six units of 2,500 sq ft at Lockheed Court are also under offer. And we have seen AC Electrical secure planning consent on 20,000 sq ft of space.”
The wider Blackpool Airport Enterprise Zone, a 144 ha site incorporating the existing airport and surrounding commercial areas, has space for 250,000 sq ft of manufacturing accommodation and is set to become a regional energy sector hub.
It will host the Lancashire Energy HQ, a dedicated new training facility for energy technicians, which has been developed by Blackpool & The Fylde College and will open in September.
The airport already serves the energy sector by operating flights to nearby gas rigs and wind farms and is also close to one of the key sites of the UK’s nascent shale gas sector. This summer, Cuadrilla Resources is expected to begin fracking at a site on Preston New Road, less than four miles from the airport, which could help transform the area if it is successful.
Green says that the zone will help diversify the local economy, which has tended to be reliant on tourism and public sector employers. “A lot of the future will be around natural assets, including wind, tidal, oil and gas and photovoltaic,” he elaborates. “Energy will be a major part of what we do.”
John Lafferty, development director at JLL, which the airport’s owner Balfour Beatty has appointed to sell the site, agrees that the airport is well placed to profit from the energy sector.
“The new college will help capitalise on the existing talent pool of engineers working in the Irish Sea gas industry and it could act as the perfect anchor for a new energy sector cluster,” he says. “However, we’ll need to see public and private sectors working in partnership to ensure subsequent development around the area can get off the ground.”
The zone will also be marketed internationally as part of the Lancashire Advanced Manufacturing and Energy Cluster and Enterprise Zones, says Green. “We are working to maximise the opportunities from all four of Lancashire’s enterprise zones.”
After years in the economic doldrums, it seems that Blackpool’s fortunes could at long last be about to improve.
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