Mixed reactions to Northern Ireland enterprise zone

Proposals for an extended enterprise zone covering the whole of Northern Ireland have been criticised by Northern Ireland's finance minister Sammy Wilson.

In an interview for the Belfast Telegraph, Wilson described the idea as 'nonsense' because of the difficulties it would place on planning laws.

Companies can benefit from reduced rates, tax breaks and accelerated planning permission for setting up business in designated enterprise zones - a Government initiative to encourage business growth and boost employment - with 24 new enterprise zones across the UK to be opened this week.

Delivering the Budget last month, Chancellor George Osborne said that Northern Ireland was to 'look forward' to its first enterprise zone, although he failed to give further details. Various MPs and business groups in Northern Ireland have pushed for the business-friendly zones, including secretary of state Owen Paterson.

Both the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce (NICC) and The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) have championed an extended enterprise zone rather than individual zones, with the FSB saying that separate areas would cause 'greater problems' and 'unhelpful internal competition.'

However, speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Sammy Wilson dismissed the proposals saying: "You can't apply relaxed planning laws across the whole of Northern Ireland."

"You would have factories up against a residential area. What we have said is that we would like some of the powers of an enterprise zone to apply across Northern Ireland."

The FSB had previously said: "We're calling for a package of financial, taxation and employment initiatives that will benefit the whole of Northern Ireland as it competes with the rest of the UK, the Republic and beyond. These should be designed to benefit local, indigenous businesses as well as making the Province the first choice location for foreign companies wishing to invest."

Currently, any bid from Northern Ireland for the establishment of an enterprise zone or zones will require Treasury backing.

The NICC, who also want to see the implementation of a nationwide enterprise zone, have said: "The Northern Ireland Assembly must assume the main leadership role in the process, rather than the Treasury, and we will be emphasising this point in our meetings with the Ministers. There should be an appreciation of the objectives of all institutions of Government, but the responsibility must rest with Northern Ireland."