The UK’s first Investment Zone in South Yorkshire is a down payment on a vision to tackle 21st century challenges - Oliver Coppard

Earlier this month the Chancellor joined me to launch the UK’s first Investment Zone here in South Yorkshire.

South Yorkshire stands on the edge of a future transformed. With the prospect of £1.2bn of investment into the sites our former steelyards and coal coking plants – epicentre of some of the most bitter industrial disputes of the 1980s – and 8,000 jobs over the next few years, we will put South Yorkshire on the front foot once again when people think about the future of Britain’s growth.

A year ago, this wouldn’t have happened. The proud ‘People’s Republic of South Yorkshire’ could not have embraced Liz Truss’ race-to-the-bottom approach to growth. We are waking up from her fever dream, and instead imagining a more ambitious plan. One based on a pro-growth partnership of the public and private sector; and demonstrating how South Yorkshire can deliver for Britain.

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That change is long overdue. South Yorkshire has been a leader before: we were the centre of the steel and coal industries and a crucible of the Industrial Revolution; we’re the birthplace of football and the host of world snooker. South Yorkshire is the place countless world-leading musicians, artists and thinkers call home, with breath-taking landscapes and warm, welcoming, connected communities.

Oliver Coppard, Mayor of South YorkshireOliver Coppard, Mayor of South Yorkshire
Oliver Coppard, Mayor of South Yorkshire

But it’s fair to say that for too long our history, our economic assets, our relatively low costs of capital, land and labour, and our high quality of life have not been enough to attract sustained, meaningful investment.

And while our strengths have sometimes been overlooked by those from outside, what’s perhaps worse is that all too often we have forgotten them ourselves. I was elected on a promise to restore the pride, the purpose and the prosperity of South Yorkshire, and I meant it. As Mayor I have made it my most enduring goal to restore those most fundamental and vital tenets of a good society; wide-spread prosperity, built on a renewed sense of purpose, a confidence about our place in the world, and a pride in both our past and our future.

We are building from a place of strength. Perhaps most notably we are building on our status as the home of the world's first and best Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District, a partnership between our materials and manufacturing leaders and our universities. At the same time as the rest of the world is rediscovering a modern industrial strategy, here in South Yorkshire we have been demonstrating its potential for decades.

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After 20 years of growth the District brings our historic strengths to bear on frontier engineering challenges – beyond metals and into IT systems, health and wellbeing sciences, and energy production. We host Boeing’s only manufacturing facility in Europe, sitting side-by-side with globally leading firms such as McLaren, ITM Power and Rolls-Royce.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt meets with South Yorkshire leaders as the UK's first Investment Zone is announced in the region.Chancellor Jeremy Hunt meets with South Yorkshire leaders as the UK's first Investment Zone is announced in the region.
Chancellor Jeremy Hunt meets with South Yorkshire leaders as the UK's first Investment Zone is announced in the region.

Our Investment Zone is the next stage in that journey. We are expanding the Advanced Manufacturing Innovation District to include town and city centres in Rotherham and Sheffield - reflecting the growing presence of urban start-ups and scale ups, and to provide space to grow for our booming digital and data service companies. We are expanding the AMID geography to include Opportunity Sites in Barnsley and Doncaster, where large, allocated plots with low land costs and good transport connections are perfect for supply chains to develop and scale up.

We are broadening our sectoral focus. Our lead sector is advanced manufacturing. In South Yorkshire we see that as a core capability; an ability to produce practical solutions to big, globally defining problems: producing clean power, heat and flight; tackling health inequalities; and harnessing technology to produce good jobs.

Ultimately, this is about more than harnessing technology to create more, better jobs. It is about renewing a sense of control and agency in communities like South Yorkshire, all across the UK. Change has for too long been seen as a bad thing for too many; a synonym for loss, of jobs, of community, of investment. That needs to change; progress must be for all, and mean real change in their lives, their jobs, their communities. We can be ambitious about shaping our future.

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South Yorkshire can make the most of its strengths in power, propulsion and production to push boundaries. We can kick start the next British Industrial Revolution: in clean energy production; in gene therapy and wellbeing sciences; or in advanced engineering for robotics, underpinned by emerging and emergent AI. And we can use that leadership to transform our public services, creating a cleaner, healthier region with better jobs for all.

That is our new economic model; working from seminar room to shop floor to face the challenges of the 21st Century as we rose to those of the 19th and 20th. Creating 21st Century prosperity and restoring civic pride, enabled by rediscovered public and private purpose. The UK’s first Investment Zone is our down payment on that vision.

Oliver Coppard is the Mayor of South Yorkshire.