‘Forget about the myth of the Sunny South’ – that was the message from Greater Brighton today as it calls for decision makers to ditch the notion that everything is rosy on the coast.
With government and big business shifting investment focus to the north, Councillor Garry Wall, the chairman of Greater Brighton, argues that overlooking regions south of the capital risks “choking off the contribution our economies make to UK plc”.
In an article for the respected Municipal Journal magazine, Cllr Wall made clear that the City Region, which contains nearly one million people from the south coast to Gatwick, is a vibrant place to do business with an economy worth more than £21 billion a year.
But he said that key issues, such as a lack of investment in transport infrastructure and a major skills shortage, are holding the region back, hampering growth and costing the treasury billions of pounds a year in revenue.
Cllr Wall argues that it is only by decision makers looking beyond the preconceived notion that everything is rosy on the coast that a true national economy can be created.
Cllr Wall, who is also leader of Mid Sussex District Council, said: “We have a simple request for investment bodies, big businesses, decision-makers of all kinds and, yes, government. That is to forget the preconceived notions about Greater Brighton, that here in the sunny South we are all comfortably well-off or retired to our seaside cottages.
“I’m asking that you don’t simply lump us in with London, that a Greater Brighton population of nearly a million people deserve better than that.”
The article references Channel 4’s recent decision to overlook the city of Brighton & Hove for a new creative hub.
While understanding the reasons for the broadcaster’s decision, Cllr Wall said he was concerned about the feedback that Brighton was too close to London and a new hub would fail to have an impact in providing new opportunities for a local workforce.
Cllr Wall said: “For me, as chairman of the Greater Brighton region – an area covering nearly one million residents from the south coast to Gatwick – what concerned us was that this revealed an unfortunate unawareness of the needs of our young people, the skills gaps we clearly have, the pockets of deprivation that exist, the employment opportunities we need to create for people born and brought up here to be able to stay.
“That we are simply lumped together with London was always a suspicion. But I hadn’t ever seen it laid out so barely before.”
He adds: “Are we to be punished for living underneath London, for failing to get the investment in road and rail that we need because of a vague notion that we are doing alright anyway? I hope not.”
Despite the difficulties mentioned above, Cllr Wall said that Greater Brighton, which is made up local authorities, businesses and academia, would continue to make significant headway in drawing in funding to address key issues.
He pointed to the securing of £160 million of Local Enterprise Partnership investment in flood defences, house building, town centre modernisation, job creation and road improvements.
Cllr Wall also referenced the opening of an Advanced Engineering Centre and a Construction Trades Centre last year which will help create a skilled workforce of the future.
He added that Gatwick Airport and Crawley Borough Council joining the Greater Brighton Economic Board showed that the benefits of working together as a coherent regional force were being recognised.
Cllr Wall said: “As chairman I am determined that Greater Brighton will start punching its own weight, pushing its case in a way we have admired from some leaders in the north.
“To be seen as the southern outpost of London is to do to the area a massive disservice. My job this year, working with the Board, is to remind government and business that we do have challenges and also have much to offer to help create wealth for the UK.”