5.4 Economic Development Strategy

Closeddate_range16 Oct, 2019, 9:30am - 11 Dec, 2019, 5:00pm

Introduction

5.4.1The Economic Development Strategy (EDS) is a key component of our Spatial Growth Strategy. The EDS will determine in broad terms how much land is needed for economic development and where it should be located.

5.4.2The top priority of our Corporate Plan is to grow and diversify the economy, particularly in the wake of significant manufacturing job losses in our Borough over recent years. Our Community Plan ‘Putting People First’ includes Sustainable Jobs as one of its five key themes and reinforces the imperative to increase the employment base in the Borough.

5.4.3Our LDP has a key role to play in achieving a vibrant economy and facilitating employment whether through the zoning of land or the development of planning policy to support business development and job growth. The LDP also has an important role in supporting the vision and aims of the Council’s Integrated Economic Development Strategy ‘Amplify’, by ensuring that sufficient and suitable land is provided in the appropriate places to retain existing businesses and attract new investment to our Borough. ‘Amplify’ has a vision for Mid and East Antrim to become Northern Ireland’s leading centre for Advanced Manufacturing and Agri-Food with recognised capabilities in Tourism, Financial and Business Services, and Digital Technologies. Whilst ‘Amplify’ initially targeted 2,200 net jobs between 2017 and 2021, it is now recognised that, given the recent significant job losses in the Borough, employment is now not expected to return to 2010 levels until 2030, with ‘Amplify’ now anticipating that the continued growth in the Borough’s economy will be largely jobless growth over the Plan period.

5.4.4The RDS (Policy RG1) aims to ensure an adequate supply of land to facilitate sustainable economic growth. The RDS then sets out a broad methodology for LDPs to assist in achieving this aim. Accordingly, the RDS Employment Land Evaluation Framework (ELEF) provides the framework for the LDP Economic Development Strategy.

5.4.5The first stage set out by the ELEF requires the LDP to ‘Take Stock of the Existing Situation’ in regard to the supply of the existing employment land portfolio. The second stage requires an ‘Understanding of Future Requirements’ in regard to the amount of employment land required across the main business sectors over the Plan period. To assist with these assessments, two studies were commissioned by Council and carried out by Ulster University Economic Policy Centre (UUEPC) and CBRE. Both reports are included within Technical Supplement 5 Economic Development.

5.4.6To inform Stage 2 of the ELEF as it applies to Mid and East Antrim, the UUEPC report provided an overview of employment change and also some projections of future employment space requirements based on the current Mid and East Antrim employment growth forecasts to 2030. In 2017, 52,100 people were employed in the Borough, which represented 6% of the total workforce in NI. Since 2001 the Borough has gained a total of 630 net new jobs, with a total of 8,700 jobs being created and 8,100 jobs lost. In considering the outlook for the Manufacturing sector, none of the Industrial & Manufacturing, Light Industrial and Research & Development categories are anticipated by UUEPC to require additional space over the Plan period. However, the report considers that the outlook is more positive in relation to the need for additional employment space for small business workspace and general office space across the Borough by 2030.

5.4.7The UUEPC report presented a number of alternative scenarios, with the most likely outcome, the baseline scenario, based on an assumption of past business trends continuing as normal with no interventions. This baseline predicts further job losses in sectors such as Manufacturing, but an overall net increase in employment in the Borough of 800 jobs over the Plan period. However, an upper scenario outcome was also presented which forecasted total employment in the Borough to increase by 4,122 jobs by 2030. It is acknowledged that this is a highly aspirational outcome, which assumes that NI achieves convergence with UK rates of employment, supported by the successful impact of the Executive’s PfG, as well as the Council’s Community Plan and Corporate Plan, and the Council-led Manufacturing Task Force. Other initiatives such as City Deal, and the Heathrow Hub bid will also contribute positively to this aspiration. Under this scenario, the employment space demand in the Borough ranges from 83,400sqm to 104,400sqm by 2030. It should however be noted that not all future demand for employment space will require new land or buildings, as many businesses are likely to expand within their current footprint. In addition, it is likely that some vacant property will also be absorbed, if deemed fit for purpose.

5.4.8To inform Stage 1 of the ELEF, CBRE were commissioned to carry out an audit of existing accommodation for a range of economic development purposes. This included looking at the availability and quality of office space, both in use and still to be developed including location, type, value, quality and ownership. The report also looked at the Enterprise Centres in the Borough, focusing on the availability of start-up and grow-on space. CBRE also reviewed the current Industrial stock in each of the three main towns taking consideration of the current industrial availability, vacancy levels, demand, location and quality of accommodation, and commented on the suitability of industrial land which remains undeveloped.

5.4.9In addition, we have also taken stock of the existing situation in our Borough through the LDP ‘Industrial and Economic Development Land Monitor’ carried out in November 2017. This calculated the gross supply of zoned economic land not yet developed which has been used as the basis for our allocation of economic land over the Plan period. Evidence relating to the uptake of zoned industry and business land suggests that there is a generous supply remaining which would be sufficient to provide the anticipated amount of employment floorspace and jobs over the Plan period.

5.4.10Account has also been taken of the turnover of existing sites due to relocation or closures, so it should be noted that vacant or underutilised lands within settlements that were last used for economic development will also contribute to the supply of economic development land in the Borough.

5.4.11A new portfolio of sites for economic development will be identified at Local Policies Plan stage to address Stage 3 of the ELEF, along with the site appraisal criteria used in the selection of such sites.

5.4.12Whilst the LDP EDS is influenced by local supply and demand considerations, it must also take due account of the regional direction, particularly in regard to the geographical distribution of employment growth.

5.4.13The RDS seeks to promote a balanced spread of economic opportunities across Northern Ireland. SFG11 seeks to promote economic development opportunities at hubs and states that hubs, or clusters of hubs, should be considered first in decision making concerning new development. SFG13 aims to sustain rural communities living in small settlements and the countryside and facilitate the development of rural industry, business and enterprise in appropriate locations. The RDS guidance is generally reinforced through the regional strategic objectives set out in the SPPS. All this regional guidance in regard to economic development is reflected in the LDP Spatial Growth Strategy, which in turn has informed the EDS in regard to the strategic allocation of land for economic development.

5.4.14Strategic spatial proposal SGS6 Strategic Allocation of Land for Economic Developmentsets out the allocation of land for economic development within Mid and East Antrim over the Plan period. Essentially, this Strategic Proposal provides the spatial framework for the operational planning policies relating to economic development set out in Part 2 and in so doing this makes clear where economic development uses will be permitted and promoted in the Borough.

Proposal Aims

5.4.15The LDP strategic approach to the allocation of land for economic development is set out in our policy aims below.

  • To ensure there is a generous supply of suitable land to meet economic development needs within the Borough over the Plan period, offering a range and choice in terms of quality;
  • To allocate an appropriate amount of economic development land for each of the three main towns in Mid and East Antrim, in line with the Spatial Growth Strategy; and
  • To provide a spatial framework for the application of economic development operational policies intended to deliver sustainable economic growth across the Borough.

SGS6 Strategic Allocation of Land for Economic Development

The allocation of economic development land (industry and business) will be distributed between the three main towns as follows:

Table 5.5 Strategic Allocation of Land for Economic Development

Main Town

Area (hectares)

Ballymena

51 ha

Carrickfergus

73 ha

Larne

43 ha

Borough Total

167 ha

These zonings will be complemented by Policy ECD2 Retention of Economic Development Land which aims to protect land in settlements currently or last used for economic development use.

Justification and Amplification

5.4.16In recognition of the LDP Spatial Growth Strategy and their position in the top tier of the settlement hierarchy, the principal focus for economic development growth will be within Ballymena, Carrickfergus and Larne. In regard to the RDS, this also reflects the regional status of both Ballymena and Larne as ‘main hubs’ and of Carrickfergus as a key location within the Belfast Metropolitan Urban Area. Larne is also designated as a ‘gateway’. Carrickfergus and Larne have benefitted from recent major road improvements which have significantly improved connectivity to Belfast. This, plus the proximity of Ballymena to the International Airport, further underlines their status as economic hubs and supports the LDP in focussing employment growth in these locations.

5.4.17Our small towns are all located in close proximity to our three main hubs and therefore land will not be zoned in this tier of the settlement hierarchy. The principal focus for economic development growth remains in the three main hubs. However, in line with the Spatial Growth Strategy, the LDP will facilitate opportunities for appropriate business growth in the small towns.

5.4.18In line with the SPPS, land will also not be zoned for economic development in our villages and smaller settlements as this could inhibit flexibility. However, the Council will give favourable consideration to small scale proposals that will not compromise the LDP Spatial Growth Strategy and provided the proposal is of a scale, nature and design appropriate to the character of the settlement.

5.4.19The Council will continue to support and facilitate opportunities for sustainable economic development and diversification in the countryside.

5.4.20It should be noted that vacant or underutilised lands within settlements that were last used for economic development will also contribute to the supply of economic development land in the Borough.

5.4.21The operational strategic subject policies for economic development are set out in Part 2.

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