Greater Brighton leaders have hailed a visit from leading Whitehall officials as the next step in generating millions of pounds of investment to the City Region.
Leading officials from the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) spent two days discovering more about the Greater Brighton Economic Board (GBEB).
After learning more about how the organisation – made up of local authorities, business leaders and academia representing nearly one million residents – works, the Whitehall team of about 20 high-level officials visited a series of projects which have benefited from the City Region.
Key issues such as investment in the A27, funding for Higher Education and making better use of public sector land were also discussed.
Time was also spent developing new ideas and talking through ways in which central government and the City Region canwork together to deliver future growth.
The result is that a list of “next steps” for GBEB, which will be discussed at its meeting next month.
Reflecting on the two-day workshop, Councillor Andy Smith, GBEB chairman and leader of Lewes District Council, said: “It’s been a very productive few days and I’m delighted to say that officials were extremely impressed with what we have achieved so far.
“It’s very rare to get such a high-level of visit and it shows that what we are doing on the south coast is being recognised nationally.
“The next step is to turn this into real genuine investment which will allow us to continue driving forward growth across our region.”
The second day of the visit started with Geoff Raw, chief executive of Brighton and Hove City Council, mapping out how Greater Brighton is helping the region deliver.
Mr Raw mapped out the opportunities (skilled workforce, leading digital sector, two leading universities) of the area but also the challenges (lack of housing, transport difficulties, inequality).
He also explained how since being founded in 2014, GBEB had already brought in £150 million of investment on a wide range of projects which will deliver 16,000 homes and 24,000 jobs.
Mr Raw said: “Working together we have delivered a strong and distinctive brand for the city region that is and will attract investment.”
Delegates then went on the trip on the i360, the world’s first vertical cable car on Brighton seafront.
The group also went on a tour of the recently-opened £14 million Advanced Engineering Centre at the University of Brighton’s Moulsecoomb campus which was funded through GBEB and is developing the engineers of the future.
The delegation met leading academics and heard how the University of Brighton and the University of Sussex are leading the way nationally and internationally in areas like internal combustion engines and quantum technology.
This included discovering how the centre is key in developing ways in which vehicles can adopt in time for the government banning new petrol and diesel cars by 2020.
Michael Davies, pro-vice chancellor for research at the University of Sussex and a GBEB member, praised the role of the board in helping bring investment to the region, such as in creating the Sussex Bio-Innovation Centre.
Talking about the benefits of GBEB, he said: “As a university we are very keen to be a major institution in our region, creating jobs and creating people doing the work so it’s absolutely vital we’re involved in all aspects of that.”
The afternoon was focussed on meeting some of those involved in the City Region’s £1 billion creative and digital sector.
Delegates heard how the area has the fourth largest concentration of IT-related companies in the UK – and then had chance to try out some of the world-leading augmented reality technology developed by local firms.
Summing up, Simon Ridley, Director General for Decentralisation and Growth at DCLG, said: “Greater Brighton has got off to a brilliant start in getting beyond the administrative boundaries, looking at the issues and moving things forward. The more you can continue to build through the board the better.
“It’s been great food for thought and I’m walking away with a long list of ideas to badger people about.”