Planning, parking, jobs and sustainable business were among the topics discussed during the annual State of the City debate in Brighton this evening (Wednesday 20 June).
Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce organised the debate and question and answer session at Brighton University’s Sallis Benney Theatre in Grand Parade.
Brighton and Hove City Council leader Jason Kitcat said that the city was a great place to do business. He said that he first moved here when he was starting a digital business.
The debate was chaired by Brighton and Hove Buses managing director Roger French.
He said that a survey of chamber of commerce members found that among the key concerns were the Brighton brand, sustainability, support for business and transport.
Tony Mernagh, who runs the Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership, said that the workforce was highly qualified and had great language skills. But, he said, the city needed more good quality office space.
It’s a fantastic place to live and now, he added, the Economic Psrtnership and the council were preparing a prospectus to attract more businesses and inward investment.
Councillor Kitcat said that Brighton and Hove could also work with its neighbours as they had more business space. He said that Brighton and Hove was a city of tomorrow – the city was going places.
The question of the cost of business rates and rents was problematic. Ed Allison-Wright, from the developer Centurion, was among those concerned that the costs could be prohibitive.
Mr Mernagh said that neighbouring councils were keen to work with Brighton and Hove with the mutual aim of creating jobs.
Malcolm Harvey, of the Federation of Small Businesses, wanted some of the scars – like the offices facing Preston Park – tackled.
Mr Mernagh accepted that there was a risk of complacency. He raised a laugh when he said that he’d been told Brighton was a city of the future – and it always would be.
He said: “We’re all waiting for someone to turn Brighton into a super city but it’s us. We are the people who have to do it.”
Chamber president Julia Chanteray spoke up for creative and digital businesses – and Councillor Kitcat said that many of them had succeeded despite the council.
He added though that the council was bidding for millions of pounds of government money to fund the spread of ultrafast broadband in Brighton and Hove.
He also said in answer to one question that the council was looking to create a suitable art gallery.
On sustainability, Councillor Kitcat said: “If everyone in the world lived the way we do in Brighton and Hove, we would need three and a half planets. We want to live by the One Planet framework.”
Mr Mernagh said that how much we recycled and what other detailed measures we took were the new subject of dinner party conversation. He said that he didn’t want to engage in environmental willy waving. But he said that we needed to live and do business less selfishly.
Julia Chanteray said that 45 businesses had joined together to firm the Green Chamber Collective in Brighton and Hove.
Mr French said that his business rival Tom Druitt, who runs Big Lemon buses, was a good example of someone who had set up his business on environmental principles. Mr Druitt said that we were good at talking the talk but needed to walk the walk.
And Cat Fletcher, from the Sustainability Partnership, said that we needed to retrofit our buildings which would create work. She also said that we needed to address the city’s invisible air pollution problem.
Mr Mernagh also urged businesses to be more ethical by treating staff well, offering a living wage and paying their bills on time.
He agreed with one questioner that planning had been run appallingly and had been too political for too long, particularly if a scheme looked like being a vote loser.
He said that Councillor Kitcat had promised that things would be different now, with decisions like the approval of offices in place of the old Astoria cited as brave.
Julia Chanteray, who works as a business adviser, wondered why it took so long just to gain planning permission for something as small as replacing shop signs.
Planning consultant Julie Cattell called for a more business-friendly approach from frontline planning staff.
On parking, Councillor Kitcat said that charges were not putting off visitors but said: “We do need to be careful.” He said that visitor numbers were more likely to be put off by bad weather.
At least one business owner said that her customers were blaming parking charges for falling away. Councillor Kitcat said that that was not consistent with the data seen by the council. He said though that charges would be reviewed.
He said that transport decisions involved weighing up many conflicting options, citing the search for a “mythical” park and ride site.
The possibility of smaller park and ride options was included in the council’s draft City Plan which looks at much wider development possibilities. Mr Mernagh urged people to read it and respond.
LIKE WHAT WE DO? HELP US TO DO MORE OF IT BY DONATING HERE.