It has been said that Herefordshire is one of the UK’s best-kept secrets, and often I wish it wasn’t: that more people around the country knew about this magical place and visited it, to enjoy the landscape, shin up the hills and chomp happily on our stunning local produce.
But sometimes the county’s great successes are a secret even to the locals. So it is with the Hereford Enterprise Zone, which has been a triumph since its launch just a few years ago.
I remember walking around the site with David Cameron in 2012 when we had just won the funding bid for a new enterprise zone. There were important remnants of its wartime role as a munitions factory, but otherwise it was just open fields and scrubland.
I had the honour of opening Skylon Park—to use its official name—in 2015, and even to my absurdly optimistic eyes it was clear that good things were happening.
And now look at it! Over £16 million has been invested. Nearly 30,000 square metres of land has been built out or committed to construction. Over twenty businesses have moved in. Every building on the site is fully let. Hundreds of new jobs have been created. The place has been transformed.
But there should be much more to come as well. The Zone has been designed with a strong defence and security focus, building on the wealth of expertise in the county. It will soon be home to a new cyber security centre, creating 185 additional jobs and leading the way nationally on internet safety.
Looking forward, the Zone has also forged close links with our new technology and engineering university project. We had a big win when we gained £8 million of Local Growth Fund support for the university last March, and we are pressing hard now to secure a further round of public investment.
But the Zone has not just attracted new investment; it has also enabled local businesses to grow. I had the great pleasure of helping to welcome GB Electricals, a well-established Hereford business, to the Zone recently in their new purpose-built premises.
Finally, I am delighted that a planning application to approve a modern re-creation of the celebrated Skylon sculpture at the Zone has been unanimously approved.
I won’t embarrass the leadership of the Zone by naming them here. But they know who they are, and they deserve our huge thanks.