Kick-starting an economy this removed from the rest of the UK is never going to be easy, and – as one county council officer admits – bustling businesses are not what many locals want. However, if Cornwall isn't going to slide off into an economic abyss, a major injection is required and that can only be funded from the public purse.
Fortunately, English Partnerships (EP) has recognised the problem and has been investing heavily. As regional chief executive officer John Burrows explains, the spending priorities of the new south-west Regional Development Authority (RDA) are likely to be skewed towards Cornwall. 'Some 80% of EP's role has been to regenerate, accounting for some £50m-£60m of its £70m budget,' he says. 'The bulk of RDA spending will come from the former Single Regeneration Budget (SRB) and EP money.'
Supply holding back expansion
Cornwall can expect more of the same funding for projects designed, in Burrows' words, 'to encourage the private sector to invest'. The Factories First project, for example, has produced nine factories at Treleigh, Indian Queens and Long Rock.
According to Alder King surveyor Tom Duncan, this £3.1m investment is helping Cornwall to establish readily available, high-quality stock.
He says: 'There are businesses that want to be here, and indigenous companies which are expanding. The problem has been a lack of quality stock. And with rentals peaking at £3.50/sq ft, no one is going to develop speculatively.'
Andrew Ware, director at Viner Fulford, agrees. 'Rents are starting to move up, but they're still at a point where EP money is needed to gap fund,' he says.
Ultimately, some £5m worth of initiatives will create 18,580 sq m (200,000 sq ft) of new industrial space across Devon and Cornwall – usually in appetisingly sized 929-1,858 sq m (10,000-20,000 sq ft) slabs close to arterial routes – as well as some 600 new jobs.
But will they simply be showcases of government munificence? Not so, says Burrows. 'The take-up at Indian Queens two months after completion – and the high level of enquiries for Treleigh – show that companies are willing to locate here if the right space is available.'
Wisely, funds are not simply being used to lure new names into the county but also to support indigenous occupiers to expand.
PAL (Europe) UK, with 1,000 workers already in Cornwall and Devon, has announced that it will construct a £3.5m, 3,800 sq m (40,000 sq ft) annex to its Cardew factory. Some £900,000 is coming from the Department of Trade and Industry's Regional Selective Assistance Scheme towards equipment and £500,000 from EP towards construction.
The European Union has proved a highly amenable funder of job creation schemes. The spectacularly ambitious Eden Project near St Austell – £74.3m to turn a 60m deep, 15ha (34 acre) china clay pit into the world's largest hothouse – is relying on £10m from the European Regional Development Fund as well as £37m from the deep purse of the Millennium Commission.
EP money has also been forthcoming for retail projects such as the Wharfside Shopping Centre in Penzance (£2.9m towards Charville Estates' total £7m redevelopment) and for the 300ha (740 acres) Broadmoor Farm retail/leisure scheme near Saltash.
Just over the river Tamar, Plymouth faces a massive challenge as it contends with the huge Ministry of Defence lay-offs that have deeply affected the city's employment hinterland. Money spent in the Devon city will impact on the fortunes of Cornwall.
Seaton Barracks is believed to be receiving grooming treatment as a potential call centre and Rockeagle has joined forces with EP for a £2.7m, 2,601 sq m (28,000 sq ft) speculative call centre at Langage.
The investment demonstrates the market's confidence in Plymouth's future as a major site for call centres. Post Office TV Licensing, SLL and On Digital are all putting feelers out.
Cornwall and Devon have everything going for them: plenty of people and plenty of land. EP money can square the circle and gap fund operations that could never justify design-and-builds.
Expect more shouts of delight as money piles in this August when the solar eclipse gives Cornwall much-deserved attention. This will be one of the very few wealth creation schemes where the hand of EP has not been detected.