It’s been nearly a year since I took on the role of chairman of the Greater Brighton Economic Board which means it is a good time to look back and reflect on what has been delivered in the last 12 months.
When I took up the role on the rotating annual basis, I made clear that the time was right for the city region to start talking about how we deliver for our near one million residents.
Looking back, I am pleased to say that we are now meeting that ambition and, for that, I must thank the collaborative work of the six local authorities, the business groups and academia representatives that make up the Greater Brighton board.
At our meeting this week (on Tuesday 17 April) we discussed the way the city region moves forward.
Since the board was established in 2014, we have been successful in bringing in more than £150 million worth of investment into the area which has helped kickstart regeneration and creating ten of thousands of homes and jobs in our local economies.
As is ever the case with these things, changes in the direction of central government means that the goalposts are moving. But as a vibrant city region whose economy has grown by 10 per cent in the last five years, Whitehall is well aware of our potential and keen to support our work.
The key question is how we go about delivering this and take the project to the next level.
To keep the success of the city region going we have to think about the wider ambition of Greater Brighton – what do we want to achieve and how can we use our collective power to benefit residents and businesses in an area that stretches from Brighton north to Gatwick?
I’m pleased to say that the last year has started to see all the board members think about “joining the dots” – so rather than just focus on jobs and homes, we’re thinking about skills, about education, about infrastructure, about water and energy.
Without these things, our communities would not be able to reach their potential which would be bad news for residents and bad news for businesses. But we also must do this while ensuring that the unique and vibrant identities of places like Haywards Heath, Crawley, Newhaven and Worthing are not diluted in any way.
We’re also taking steps to draw in more investment and trade into the area. Despite being home to 40,000 businesses and generating an output of around £21 billion every year, Greater Brighton is falling behind when it comes to attracting investors. The new trade and investment team, the first stages of which we agreed at our last meeting, will go some way to dealing with this
There is lots to be excited about though. The addition of Crawley Borough Council and Gatwick Airport as members of the board means that we are bigger, not only in terms of geography but also reputationally. It is also important that we focus beyond our coastal communities
We still have challenges, most notably in transport. But through working with the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership and the Transport for South East group, we are hopeful of bringing in much-needed investment to improve our road and rail network. This will also support the ongoing activities of our two ports at Newhaven and Shoreham and our very successful international airport at Gatwick
As I pass over the baton to another chairman, there’s still a lot to achieve. But I know we are capable of delivering for our residents
I look forward to working with fellow board members moving forward to keep on driving growth and taking this exciting collaboration to the next level.
Councillor Andy Smith is chairman of the Greater Brighton Economic Board and leader of Lewes District Council.