The South Coast of England is well known for its attractive coast and tourism, yet the coastal settlements have been a focus for growth, wealth creation and enterprise for centuries. Historic ports and centres of trade, Victorian tourism resorts and strategically placed military bases have each spurned growth, development and major infrastructure investment in roads, ports and rail.
Yet over the past 20 years, it appears the “glory days” for the South Coast could be over. As coastal resorts lose their tourism appeal, military activity declines and concern grows over a lack of infrastructure investment, resistance is increasing to new development and growth by local communities that aren’t being provided with a bigger vision or plan for the area.
Bold and ambitious plans have been stifled by local politics, resulting in any new plans to deliver game-changer infrastructure, economic growth or development deemed as “unrealistic” or “pie in the sky”.
The South Coast appears to have lost those historic bold, innovative, enterprising pioneers who saw an opportunity and made it happen with fear of enterprise, change and unified working, blocking innovative, forward-thinking.
The South Coast is crying out for infrastructure investment and new homes. However, there are a number of factors preventing this from taking place – mixed messages where the local press herald new proposals to meet local needs, yet accompany the story with pictures of angry local residents pledging to fight to the end to prevent the development happening. Council Committees are full of proposals to meet housing and employment needs: the most controversial of all, the Local Plan and how much greenfield development it should provide for, and local elections won on a mandate for preventing development happening.
Despite this, there are seven reasons why the need for growth and development is as great now as it ever was, if not more:
- Increasing competition on the national and world stage has meant that the South Coast has fallen behind its economic growth aspirations;
- The South Coast continues to take more from the public purse than it contributes – it is in debt;
- The growth in population and households as people live longer and fewer people live in each home;
- Increasing problems of affordability – a growing gap between costs of living and the price of a home;
- In-migration from London and elsewhere due to even greater affordability problems there, or an aspiration to retire to the coast;
- The “brain-drain” loss of highly skilled young people out of the region; and
- An ageing population, meaning fewer people of working age generating economic growth.
With seven reasons for growth, do we have seven solutions?
Transport infrastructure: With two cities in close proximity and a range of large towns, there is a huge opportunity for growth on the South Coast, which has still yet to be realised. Yet the links between them largely remain reliant upon out-dated road infrastructure, stunting their growth and attractiveness. Cities such as Nottingham, Manchester, Bordeaux and Copenhagen have invested heavily in 21st century transport solutions, making them more accessible, attractive places to invest in.
Linking development to infrastructure: Why not use development and capture value to provide for the infrastructure investment needed?
Young people – the future of the region: The cities and towns must invest much more in the younger population, working hard to attract and retain graduates to help grow the areas economy.
Compete for and attract working people with the right skills: Ask a growing business what its main constraint is and it will most often say: the lack of people with the right skills. The region needs to compete and attract skilled workers to the area to help grow our existing businesses, particularly those targeted for the greatest growth.
A grown-up conversation and debate: So many opportunities are missed because of misunderstanding or not understanding the alternatives – why not work together with LAs, communities, development industry and infrastructure providers to produce an intelligent evidence-based plan for the whole of the South Coast and then deliver what is needed.
Understand where development can go, not just where it can’t: With two national parks, landscape designations, ecologically sensitive areas and the water to the south, where can development actually take place? How can development be linked to the major cities and towns and where the growth is needed? Identifying areas for growth can be challenging, but opportunities do exist. Barton Willmore has developed an intelligent, site identification and sifting tool. Using empirical evidence combined with local knowledge and observation, areas with growth potential can be quickly identified across the region. These have the ability to deliver growth in the most sustainable locations and are of a scale that can make a significant contribution to investment in critical infrastructure.
The Need for a vision: The past 20 years have been the days of small things, where less is more but with little meaningful infrastructure investment. We need to return to the days of great things by having a collective, joined up and ambitious vision. Countless other cities and regions across the UK and Europe will testify that there is no shortage of money to invest in infrastructure – you just need to have the will to make it happen.
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