Myself and our South Coast team have spent our first couple of years here getting to know and understand the strengths and quirks of this complex coastal region. From our Southampton base, we have considered the make-up of our towns and cities alongside our infrastructure, natural resources and growth challenges, and discussed these assets with many members of the wider business community. What became clear fairly quickly and is no doubt something many of you working across this region are acutely aware of however, is the wealth of untapped potential.
We have nationally renowned centres of education excellence spanning Marine Biology, Cancer research, science and engineering in our higher education establishments. We have historic centres of national importance, alongside outstandingly beautiful stretches of coastline and open space. We have a port with an ever-increasing role in exporting UK goods beyond Europe, two increasingly important regional airports and a key tourism hub for cruise liners arriving from and departing to destinations all over the world.
So why don’t we see the South Coast up there alongside the Northern Powerhouse or the Midlands Engine? The mere fact that the ‘South Coast’ is not a recognised (nor if we’re honest, an appealing) name is perhaps a starting point. What is our brand, our identity? How is it articulated and who represents us? What sums us up as a collective? Are we even a collective?
Can we articulate more effectively who we are and our ambitions, deliver a cohesive approach to infrastructure and growth across the region, and a focus on attracting and retaining talent and focusing skills; mirroring the activity of our competitors in the midlands and north to attract greater inward investment and recognition on a national platform?
These are all points that we have been mulling over and discussing with others across the business community and we are by no means alone in our thinking. Across the region there are many groups discussing and seeking to drive change for our regional home, to build a louder voice for our area, and drive for recognition of the potential we can all see. But this drive has been piecemeal. Historic barriers of splintered politics seeking and failing to secure devolution and Local Authorities focused on meeting local need as opposed to meeting their duty to cooperate beyond their boundaries, has stymied progress. The Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (PUSH) group initiative which sought to drive this cooperation was frustrated by their role as an unelected body which lacked the force to ensure a Duty to Cooperate, and more importantly a duty to agree.
But with new leaders in place for both Southampton and Portsmouth following the recent local elections, is there a chance for a change of tact? Our local authorities across this region are looking at strategic growth, and through the Business South organisation and the Regenerate South conference being held on the 6th June, we hope to support this strategic thinking further.
At Regenerate South we, alongside Terence O’Rourke and Blake Morgan will be bringing together Bournemouth, Southampton and Portsmouth as well as Hampshire County Council in a unified exhibition space – called the Urban Zone. We hope this will provide a platform for them to present their assets and opportunities to our regional and national business community and begin to assist us all in understanding how we can link together and assist a collective drive for growth. We are also bringing together the voices of our regional Local Enterprise Partnerships, real estate networking groups, Chamber of Commerce and CBI, to begin a single and we hope, productive conversation around the ambition and strategy to deliver growth.
Our experience from participation in the Reading 2050 Vision – a future visioning exercise for a single city - has taught us this is no overnight solution, but we believe this is a good opportunity for a number of us to come together and create momentum that supports and encourages our Local Authorities across the region to act. So why don’t you join us and tell us your great idea for central South?
Come and chat with our team at Regenerate South on 6th June.
Submit your ideas on our webpage.
Share your ideas on Twitter using #BWgreatidea
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