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Enterprise Zone (Belfast)

Volume 990: debated on Thursday 7 August 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if he will give a progress report on consultations on the proposal to establish an enterprise zone in Belfast.

The matter was debated in the Northern Ireland Committee on 16 July. Apart from seeking the views of hon. Members representing Northern Ireland constituencies, I have also contacted the main political parties in the Province, the Belfast city council and 25 industrial, professional and trade bodies. There is widespread support for the idea of an enterprise zone in Northern Ireland and I have received a number of representations on the boundaries of a zone and other matters. I am considering these comments.

Will the Minister examine the possibility of spreading the advantages a little more thinly over the Greater Belfast area? If that idea is rejected will he examine the possibility of enlarging the zone from the proposed 100 acre to 500 acres as suggested by his right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, so as to include existing companies such as Mackies?

During the debate a number of hon. Members suggested that the zone should be extended to 500 acres although I understand that the average size of an enterprise zone in Great Britain will be about 250 acres. I am considering those representations.

Has the Minister received representations from Carrickfergus borough council about the possibility of a zone in the Carrickfergus area in view of the near close-down of Courtaulds there?

I have been in contact with Carrickfergus district council on this matter and I expect to receive its views in the near future.

Is not the idea of a limited enterprise zone nonsense? Is the Minister aware that it has certainly not received much support in Northern Ireland, bearing in mind that the whole of Northern Ireland is a depressed area which needs massive support from a Government who are engaging in savage cuts? Does he realise that a major factor is the high overdraft rate in Northern Ireland, which is I per cent. to 1½ per cent. higher than in the rest of Great Britain?

There was an announcement yesterday extending the amount of Government support to the Northern Ireland economy. We have calculated the cost of extending an enterprise zone to the whole of Northern Ireland and the cost of the rating concession alone would be about £56 million. That is almost precisely equal to the support recently announced for Harland and Wolff and De Lorean.

Has the Minister received any representation from the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) to the effect that Northern Ireland should forgo the proposed zone in view of its hyper-inflationary nature? If he has, will he reject that plea and instead concentrate his mind on the constructive suggestions which have been made today? Is not a single zone of 200 acres too small to affect the economic infrastructure of the city of Belfast? Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider that aspect?

The proposal is not supposed to transform the entire position in Belfast. It is proposed to revitalise one area of Belfast in which there is considerable urban dilapidation. The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell), who addressed the Northern Ireland Committee on this subject, can make his own views known.

Is the Minister aware that those who criticised my speech in support of the Government in the censure debate are now dismayed to discover that the Government intend to spend more and not less in Northern Ireland?