Two hundred businessmen and women asked the people running Brighton and Hove about “the State of the City” this evening (Tuesday 9 July).
The topics discussed by the audience and three panellists included jobs and skills, planning permission, commercial space and help for start ups.
One panellist, Gary Peters, chairman of the Brighton and Hove Economic Partnership, said: “We need to create 6,500 jobs, we need to build homes and we need to build office space. We need to attract more visitors to come here.”
“Over the next few years the city needs to generate another 6,500 jobs – and that was before we found out we’ve got an extra 23,500 people living here, most of them of working age. And we need to create better-paid jobs.
“We need to harness our creativity and energy to become a super-city.
“We can’t hide from the fact that we need to build 16,000 to 19,000 homes over the next ten years. And we’ve got very little space so maybe we need to build up.
“We’re not always good at development. We as businesses need to take responsibility.
“It’s easy to knock the council but they’ve got less and less to work with.
“In five year’s time who knows if there will even be a council and if there is, it may only have a budget of five pence!”
Andy Winter, the chief executive of Brighton Housing Trust (BHT), addressed the housing shortage and one of the choices set out in the draft City Plan.
He said: “I’m pleased that it looks like 750 homes will be built in Toads Hole Valley.
“I’d like to see homes built between Falmer and Woodingdean. Some people say it’s an area of outstanding natural beauty. I think it looks like a cabbage patch for chavs.”
Mr Winter, who is to use specially adapted shipping containers to house people temporarily near Preston Circus, said: “I’d like to see 500 shipping containers at Preston Barracks to house people temporarily for the 20 years that it will take to develop that site.”
He called for greater housing density and compromises on living space and room sizes, mitigated by the inclusion of shared space for, say, laundry and ironing.
He said: “The average electric screwdriver is used for only about eight and a half minutes in its lifetime. Less in my case. The same is true for things like washing machines and dishwashers.”
And, touching on the need for more graduate-level jobs, he added: “We have the most highly qualified bar staff in the country.”
Mark Strong, from the Brighton consultancy Transport Initiatives, said: “If we had higher-skilled jobs, fewer people would commute to London and the money they spend during the day would be spent in the local economy.”
Another of the three panellists, council leader Jason Kitcat, said: “We clearly have limited space with narrow Victorian streets and we’re bounded by the national park and the sea.
“The roads aren’t getting any wider but the demands are.
“Forty four out of forty six places where we measure air pollution are getting better but two are getting worse, notably North Street.
“We’ve promoted buses and car clubs – and technology like apps to help people make smarter choices.”
Councillor Kitcat defended Brighton and Hove City Council against accusations that its planning committee obstructed new development.
He said that almost all applications were approved and added: “There are so many planning permissions already granted but people are not always getting the finance to build them.”
He said: “The councils are working together more. Let’s face it, business doesn’t stop at the line between here and Shoreham or Newhaven. Municipal boundaries don’t matter to businesses.”
Chamber president Julia Chanteray, who was also on the panel, said: “We need to make it easier for businesses to start up and get going and remove some of the obstacles that are there at the moment.”
She pointed out that the Chamber provided mentors and said that “180 people starting a business have benefited from this”.
With a high start-up rate in Brighton and Hove there were calls for more incubation space.
Insurance boss Noel Preston said: “My brother lets business premises. The office space he can’t fill, but for the light industrial space he’s got a waiting list.” He said that the waiting list was for premises in Moulsecoomb.
Brighton University internships officer Rebecca Duffy urged businesses to offer work placements and jobs to students – a call echoed later by a local university student.
Ms Chanteray highlighted the work that the Chamber and the universities were doing together.
Linda Buckham, director of the Careers and Employability Centre at Sussex University, added: “Let’s be careful not just to look the skills that we’ve currently got. Let’s look at the skills we’ll need for the future.”
Mr Peters pointed to the potential at Block J by Brighton Station where the Sussex Innovation Centre planned to help incubate more businesses.
Councillor Kitcat said: “We have the second-highest number of start ups outside London so we’re not doing too badly. But that’s not to say we can’t do better.”
Business development adviser Kerry Kyriacou added: “We also have a high failure rate.”
Several people asked how start ups could be helped prompting Victoria Mason, of the accountants Cardens, to say: “The obvious and best thing a start up can do is go and see an accountant.”
Mr Preston asked: “How are we trying to attract new businesses to the city?”
And Ray Edwards, from Tec Collective, said that he knew people who were keen to do business in Brighton but said: “There are lots of partnerships but who do you talk to and how do you get hold of them. It’s the same with the universities?”
Mr Peters said: “The Economic Partnership has just developed an inward investment site for exactly this purpose.”
And Ms Chanteray said: “You are in exactly the right place tonight to meet those people.”
The event ended as it started – with networking in the bar outside the theatre.
Afterwards Linda Buckham said: “The State of the City event, yet again, demonstrated that the big debate organised by the Brighton and Hove Chamber of Commerce was a big hit as the room was full on a hot sunny evening to 8.30pm and beyond.
“So many interesting ideas about the important issues for the city, knowledge and skill gaps, highly skilled labour, jobs, young people and transition into the labour market, planning, transportation, innovation, business start-up, visions for the city, do we work hard enough and smart enough to really grow the city and deliver the jobs and economic growth for our prosperity.
“What an amazing event. Thank you Brighton and Hove Chamber for being the trendsetters and zeitgeisters for the business community.”