Development is more than just building homes and offices, says Councillor Andy Smith, the incoming chairman of the Greater Brighton Economic Board. Writing after his first meeting in the new role, the leader of Lewes District Council explains how improving transport links is essential in connecting the communities of Greater Brighton.
Talk to anyone of the 700,000 people and 35,000 businesses who call the Greater Brighton City Region home and there will one gripe that’s nearly always top of their list: transport.
Whether it’s cancelled trains or clogged-up roads during rush-hour, there’s nothing that gets people more hot under the collar than being delayed as they look to make it from A to B.
Whether it’s a parent on the school run, a business owner waiting for a freight delivery or family heading on holiday, any obstacle to the movement of people creates frustration, even anger, which in turn has a negative impact on our economy.
It is something experienced across the Greater Brighton area, from Worthing to Seaford, Brighton & Hove and north to Haywards Heath.
For that reason, the Greater Brighton Economic Board is keen to look at ways in which we can use our role as an organisation representing local authorities, businesses and academia to lobby the government to make improvements to our existing transport infrastructure.
One way in which we can do that is by developing a piece of work we have called Rail South. This will feed into a new group called Transport for South East, which covers the whole region from Kent to Berkshire.
The aim of Rail South is to give customers, commuters and businesses a voice; a voice which will be heard directly by those people making decisions on how our current service is run.
As a board, we have agreed that we need to make investment in the Brighton Mainline a priority. Millions of people rely on this network and recent months has proved it is not fit for purpose.
We will also use our position to push for other rail improvements, to ensure that connections on the east and west coastline out of Brighton are improved, in addition to those between Lewes and Uckfield.
I’m a firm believer that development is more than just creating a building; we also need to look at the links between centres for employment and centres for living.
This is why transport is important and the GBEB has a real opportunity to have a say in guiding the strategy on this.
I hope that in the next 12 months while I am chairman we can make progress on this, as well as a host of other issues.
It is a great honour taking on the role. Having joined the board 18 months ago I have seen first hand the impact that the organisation can have in driving forward regeneration across the city region.
Outgoing chairman Councillor Dan Humphreys has done an excellent job in the last year. His tenure coincided with tens of millions of pounds worth of investment into the city region, the results of which we are already starting to see.
That work I’m looking to build on in the next 12 months, developing the projects that we are already involved in but also looking to new horizons.
One of those areas is looking beyond our boundaries and I delighted to say that we had representatives from Crawley Borough Council and Gatwick Airport Ltd at today’s meeting.
Having them on board will present us with tremendous opportunities for regeneration and growth, giving Greater Brighton a stronger voice when lobbying at a national and international level.
It also means we can focus on strengthening the A23 corridor which links Brighton, Gatwick and London. This has been one of nine areas to be at the heart of growth in England in recent years and I’m confident it will continue to be pivotal moving forward.
Another area where we are making great strides is the One Public Estate programme.
This is all about making the most of publicly-owned assets and work is already underway at looking at bringing more government funding into the area to develop this further.
This is very much a case of ‘from small acorns do tall oaks grow’ as with a little bit of support, we can drive regeneration projects forward which could provide hundreds of homes and create employment space for thousands of people.
A new round of funding has just opened so I urge all the public sector organisations to come to us and see how this can support their work.
A prime example of this in my own backyard, the Springman House project in Lewes. In recent weeks, Lewes District Council has signed off buying a former NHS building in the town centre with the aim of working with partners to construct a new emergency services hub on the plot.
By doing so, we can unlock the £180 million redevelopment of the North Street Quarter. Once complete, that will deliver 416 new homes as well as 140,000 sq ft of new commercial space.
It’s a great example of how the city region can pull together resources from a regional and national level to bring about real change to those living in our area.
And finally, I would like to wish everyone involved in the planning of the British Science Festival all the very best.
The internationally-acclaimed event is coming to Brighton for the first time in more than 30 years in early September. It is a real coup for the city region with tens of thousands of people attending 120 events over four days.
It’s a great chance to show off some of the amazing work that businesses and academic establishments across Greater Brighton do in promoting science in our area and I’m confident it will be a big success. Visit www.britishsciencefestival.org for more details.