New vision for regional development takes major step forward

Vision of the future: An artist’s impression of how the area around Toton could potentially be developed, according to the East Midlands Development Corporation.

One of the biggest development opportunities in the UK is taking a major step forward with the launch next month of a body which will begin the work of the proposed East Midlands Development Corporation. 

Trailed by the UK government as a potential new approach to regional planning, the corporation is promoting three major development opportunities which are collectively the size of three London Olympic Parks. 

Forecast to create 84,000 jobs and add £4.8bn of value to the regional economy, the three zones include the site of the East Midlands Freeport, the only inland freeport signed off in the budget by chancellor Rishi Sunak. 

The interim vehicle begins its work in April ahead of the formal parliamentary process necessary to set up a new kind of locally-led urban development corporation. A business case which asks for £14m of support during its set-up phase has just been submitted to government. 

The region contains advanced manufacturing heavyweights such as Rolls-Royce, Toyota and Bombardier and their supply chains. It is also a major national logistics centre with Segro’s East Midlands Gateway road-rail hub directly alongside East Midlands Airport – the UK’s largest dedicated air freight handling operation. 

The three development areas which the Corporation will support are: 

  • East Midlands Airport area: which supports the region’s status as a centre for advanced manufacturing & research, and is a national and international logistics gateway which will be at the heart of the new Freeport zone;
  • Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station site: transforming part of the site of one of the UK’s last coal-fired power stations into a national centre for carbon zero technologies and manufacturing innovations, which is also in the Freeport zone;
  • Toton & Chetwynd: creating a new, connected community which will centre on a Garden of Innovation and the proposed East Midlands HS2 Hub Station. 

The three areas cross the territory of five local authorities, who have come together to provide initial funding for the proposed development corporation to press ahead with work which will include recruiting specialist skills and carrying out masterplanning, site enabling and marketing to investors, developers and occupiers. 

The set-up phase has been advised by a consortium of consultants including Arup, Leonard Design, Turner & Townsend, Grant Thornton and Pinsent Masons. 

The Development Corporation is one of the key projects of the Midlands Engine, the partnership of private and public sector organisations which works to promote investment and growth across the region. 

Midlands Engine chairman Sir John Peace has chaired the group which led development of the new body. He said: “What we have in front of us is one of the biggest opportunities the UK has ever seen to not just build on the potential of some major economic assets, but to transform the economy of an entire region in the process.  

“The sites themselves are collectively the size of three London Olympic Parks and the vision for their growth is both ambitious and futuristic, embracing our net zero future and unlocking new opportunities which range from international trade to community-level growth. 

“We must begin the work to unlock that potential now, and we start next month with the launch of the interim body.”  

The five councils initially backing the interim vehicle are Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire County Councils, together with Rushcliffe and Broxtowe Borough Councils, and North West Leicestershire District Council. Talks on how the model can be extended further into the East Midlands are continuing. 

While the new Development Corporation requires Westminster approval, it will be locally-led and also supported by cash from local Business Rates - giving the region’s businesses a stake in its progress. 

The Business Case submission to government throws a spotlight on the key role prominent regional economic assets like East Midlands Airport will play in driving economic growth. It is home to the UK’s largest dedicated air freight handling operation. 

By attracting ambitious, private-sector investment, the three sites will have the capacity to shift the dial of productivity for the regional economy. 

Clare James, East Midlands Airport’s managing director, said: “I welcome the opportunity to work in partnership with businesses and public sector bodies to help shape a future vision for this region and deliver economic growth and prosperity for people who live, work and study in this region. 

“When the region does well, so too does the airport and vice versa. It’s therefore in all of our interests that the East Midlands prospers, and the airport, which is our doorway to the world, will continue to play a key role in this.” 

The East Midlands Chamber of Commerce represents 4,300 businesses across the region. Its chief executive, Scott Knowles, said: “The East Midlands economy now has in front of it a series of major opportunities which must play a decisive role in both the recovery of the region in the wake of the pandemic and in unlocking the commercial opportunities presented by our digital and carbon zero future. 

“Government’s decision to award a freeport to the East Midlands is a huge vote of confidence in our prospects. The Development Corporation and the partnership behind it give us an additional opportunity to drive joined-up progress faster than ever before and to turn the region into the UK’s investment destination of choice. 

“It’s vital that the whole region now gets behind these opportunities and makes the most of their potential.”

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