‘The quickest way to change the perception of Slough is to re-name it North Windsor’.
This rather tongue-in-cheek statement at a recent Development Plans conference is evocative of the social stigma attached to a town that has been blighted by bad PR ever since Betjeman invited friendly bombs to fall in 1937.
Times, however, appear to be changing as despite the depiction of Slough as a ‘drab industrial estate’ by Ricky Gervais in the setting for sitcom ‘The Office’, it has recently been voted the best place to work and live, beating 24 others including Reading, Manchester and Cambridge.
So, is the perception of Slough finally changing and what is the catalyst behind the change?
On paper, Slough boasts a great number of positives as a place to live and work. The evidence speaks for itself. Slough is home to not only the largest industrial estate in private ownership in Europe but also the highest number of FTSE 100 companies outside of London. It is one of the most accessible and connected towns in Europe with access to London and Heathrow in 20 minutes and the pending Crossrail service enabling passengers to reach the city in 30 minutes by 2019. It has also seen a 40% growth in house prices over the last two years, boasts low unemployment and excellent schools with GCSE results rated in the top 10 nationwide.
However, successful perception change is not only about connectivity, a strong economic base and low unemployment, it is about becoming a place that is aspirational and instils a sense of pride, well-being and ownership in the businesses and communities it serves.
The built environment is critical to this success. It not only supplies the places to live, work and play but also opportunities to engage, interact and meet. Slough is facing these challenges head on by embarking on an epic period of rejuvenation and renewal. Whilst the Crossrail effect has undoubtedly seen a boost in private investment in the town, including the acquisition of Queensmere Shopping Centre by Catalyst Investments, the ambition of Slough Borough Council to facilitate change is refreshing.
With ambitious and controversial plans being announced for a northern extension of the town, the launch of Slough 2040 to explore the future strategic long-term challenges and opportunities of the area and the Council’s own ‘Slough Means Business’ campaign, there is a real public drive to capitalise on the positives of the town.
The changes are visible in the number of cranes across the skyline, the delivery of key community buildings and the refreshingly positive and proactive stance of the Council to embark on public/private partnerships to kick start and facilitate development on key sites throughout the town.
Most noticeable is the partnering between Slough Borough Council and Morgan Sindall Investments in the form of Slough Urban Renewal (SUR). Since its inception in 2012, the partnership is currently delivering £900m in development projects and has opened the doors to iconic buildings such as The Curve, local schools (St Mary’s, James Elliman), significant numbers of new homes and enhanced leisure facilities at Arbour Park community sports facility, Slough Ice Arena and a new leisure centre on Farnham Road. The partnership is also working on the delivery of new hotels, retail and housing on the former library site in the town centre. Earlier this year, Slough Borough Council also acquired the vacant Thames Valley University site which will provide 1,400 homes, 45,000 sqft of retail and 250,000 sqft of office space to become the largest council led regeneration scheme outside of London - a SUR project expected to reel in £550m worth of investment. With ongoing projects it is anticipated SUR will deliver over 2000 new homes in the next few years.
At a time when most Local Authorities are making cuts, Slough Borough Council has seized the moment to build on the strengths of the town and facilitate change. This, coupled with the increasingly loud hum of CrossRail, the expansion of Heathrow and the focus on improving Slough as a place to live is creating a virtuous circle of investment and the momentum behind the catalyst for change.
Slough does not need rebranding, it needs to continue to promote its opportunities and shout ‘Proud to be Slough’.
Look out for Charlotte at the Protecting the Future: Slough 2040 event on 9th November.
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