There aren't many offices in the UK that are within a stone's throw of a National Park, Laboratories housing some of the world's leading marine scientists, the busiest criose terminal in the UK, the second largest container port AND and international airport! From our recently opened office at the Ocean Village in Southampton, our new South Coast team can't help but feel excited about what the future holds for the region. Here, we talk to the team about where they see growth and opportunity across the South Coast.“We’ve arrived at a great time for Southampton,” says Robin Shepherd, the Partner leading the new team. “The city is seeing a wealth of development, not least with the newly-opened WestQuay Watermark, a leisure-led regeneration scheme on the waterfront for which the Practice secured consent. Having said that, I can’t help thinking that Southampton could still utilise its assets much more, leveraging them to its advantage. Is this maritime city making the most of its waterfront for example? The sea is the defining feature and foundation stone of the city, and yet for many years now the city has turned its back on its waterfront. In many ways this was understandable as the city industrialised and much of the land is in active port use, but we need to be thinking strategically about how the city can be reconnected to this great asset. As operators, Associated British Ports’ role in this and in the city’s wider economy, is significant, but with collaboration, I do believe that improvements to our waterfront could benefit all. The city is on the cusp of great things, with some interesting ideas emerging but many of the thoughts and proposals are not connected or don’t form part of a cohesive strategy, underpinned by transport investment.
“The same also applies to several of the towns and cities across the South. As a region, we can learn a lot from how other cities across the UK and overseas (such as Rotterdam, Bordeaux and Helskinki) have adapted to change – and how urban planners have led the way in regeneration, managing growth, delivering significant transport investment and securing economic growth as a consequence.”
Home to several prominent universities, including the University of Southampton (one of the founders of the Russell Group and one of the UK’s leading research-intensive universities), the city and wider region also offers a strong intellectual base with which to attract investors and employers. “What is surprising though is that despite these research hubs and potential for some seriously exciting employment opportunities if you work in these fields, attracting graduates is difficult,” says Rebecca Horrocks, an Associate Planner in the new team. “The opportunity for ‘innovation district’ style growth (as discussed on p.9) is strong. Chilworth Science Park is a good success story for the University of Southampton and a starting point, in this regard. We need to ask how we might further leverage and focus growth of employment and even residential opportunities around our universities and their core subjects, providing a greater direct link with employers and researchers, and therefore hopefully attract graduates to stay long term.”
“Many graduates no doubt move to London and other cities in search of a vibrant and exciting backdrop to begin their careers” adds Carolyn Organ, who joined the team in early 2016 as an Associate. “I for one, after studying in Southampton, moved away as I could not see any real prospects for me in the area and had not really connected with the city beyond the university.
"With a range of transport hubs, millions of people pass through Southampton every year but we retain few visitors in the city for any significant time. Is this solely due to a lack of hotels, or is it more around clarity of what we have to offer, our character and perhaps our heritage and natural assets are all too well hidden? Each of our South Coast cities need to be trading more on their assets, be that the sea, heritage, culture or landscape. They’re not a hindrance to growth or development, but a point of differentiation, character and opportunity.”
Another key challenge the South Coast faces is its current infrastructure. “Despite our international ports and airports, national rail lines and good connections to major motorways, connectivity out of Southampton and Portsmouth for example and into the surrounding areas is poor,” explains Tim
Guymer, another new Associate in the team. “In my previous role with Eastleigh Borough Council, the delivery of local infrastructure was a regular point of concern for residents and businesses. Connectivity with our major cities in the region is vital to unlock economic growth within the area and for too long our attention has been drawn to short term, quick fixes rather than longer-term, sustainable solutions. With improved local infrastructure, we could begin to tap into the sustainable transport connections we already have to provide some seriously exciting growth opportunities. To do this though, local authorities in the South Coast need to work together and with the development industry in order to achieve a long-term vision, that puts transport infrastructure at the forefront.”
From her work in Oxfordshire, on what is now the Oxfordshire Growth Board, Carolyn is only too aware of how other competitor cities are organised to span local authority borders and drive this type of strategic view. “Back in 2012/3, Oxfordshire realised that developing a clear strategy for growth and USP was crucial to align themselves and access government funding and support to help deliver their growth strategy. This proactive approach led to a number of successes in the City Deal and Local Growth Funding, but also with Government support for two garden towns and one garden village. The wider work they participated in as part of East-West Rail and the Oxford to Cambridge Expressway is now high on the Government agenda for the Oxford-Cambridge economic corridor.” And yet only a few years ago, the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (PUSH) were commended by the South East Plan EIP Panel, for their innovative work in leading the way at cooperating/preparing an evidence base and strategic thinking with regard to the aspirations for the south Hampshire area. “Obviously, things haven’t quite gone to plan with the LEP now essentially taking the lead,” adds Tim “but perhaps we could reinvigorate this previous success and follow the model that Oxfordshire has shown can work.”
“So, what is clear, is despite development picking up the pace across the South Coast, effective transformation and regeneration needs to be underpinned by a coordinated vision” says Robin. “We need bold steps to be taken to attract new ideas and investment, which will provide long term solutions to enabling the South Coast and the cities within them to reach their potential. The team and I are excited to be a part of that growth and are already looking at ways in which we can assist others in understanding the opportunity, but also in seeing the potential ways we can address it through new approaches to our work. I am genuinely excited about applying our knowledge and experience from the continued work in the Thames Valley to the South Coast region.”
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