A key question when considering the impact of investment zones as a state-driven, spatially-orientated economic fix, is their ability to generate new economic growth and development beyond pre-existing economic activity. This includes both within the investment zone itself but also to those businesses located outside it. Hence our project – one of seven commissioned by the National Innovation Centre for Rural Enterprise (NICRE) - will seek to respond to this research gap and other related research questions.
For example, what evidence exists in respect of the successful implementation of rural enterprise zones - and in the context of a broader ongoing emphasis in UK Government policy towards urban areas? How - and to what extent - will benefits accrue from investment zones to rural businesses in combined authority areas which have a substantial rural footprint? What is the potential ‘reach’ - and benefit - of investment zones focused on combined authorities to rural businesses in outlying areas? What equivalent investment/enterprise zone approach - based on our understanding of previous policy iterations - could be developed more specifically to address the needs of rural businesses? Indeed in terms of the latter question, the South Lincolnshire Food Enterprise Zone (pictured right) is a very interesting example of a recent approach which has been set up to increase productivity, bring innovation, and increase skills for the agri-tech, agri food, and food manufacturing sectors.
In order to address these questions, our study will involve a survey of rural local authorities in England to understand in more detail what an equivalent investment zone approach could look like for rural areas, and how the existing approach could be modified and/or tailored to provide benefits to rural businesses. We will also be speaking to policymakers and business support organisations to ascertain their views on such issues. The overall intention is to co-produce a set of recommendations - including a policy briefing - that will outline the ways in which investment zones could work better for businesses in rural England.