To receive a presentation from J Houston, Specialist Manager (Strategic Partnerships). For information: Nurturing Growth, a discussion paper to launch work on a new strategy to support economic development in the district 2019 to 2025 (see attached).
J Houston, Specialist Manager (Strategic Partnerships), was in attendance.
Nurturing Growth, a discussion paper to launch work on a new strategy to support economic development in the District from 2019 to 2025, had been published in the agenda. It put forward proposals to deliver a long term vision and plan to future proof the District’s economic success, enable entrepreneurs to become established, businesses to grown and residents to prosper. A public consultation was underway and members’ thoughts and feedback were welcomed.
Why did we need a strategy? The economy was developing and evolving but the District did not have exhaustive resources and needed to focus the District’s economic development into those areas that would give the greatest benefit, hence Nurturing Growth. It was increasingly important to attract inward investment whether that was from Central Government, local enterprise agencies or the private sector, and when bids were made that they fitted in with the District’s priorities to develop a greater value. The Council played a role to work in collaboration with interested parties, to bring investors and partners together, and that public money was used properly. Therefore, it was not just a plan for the Council, but also a plan for the place - Epping Forest District.
Nurturing Growth laid out the key aspects of the District economy, which were:
· High streets and town centres
· Tourism and visitor economy
· Infrastructure and transport
· Partnerships that deliver
· Skills and employment
· Growing our food sector
· A place for entrepreneurs and business start-ups
It prompted discussion by asking for suggestions on whether this was a priority, were these the right things to do, were there any other suggestions and was anything missing. The initial consultation had been circulated to 150 interested parties, published on the Council’s website and promoted through social media.
The feedback was varied and some people had thought the Council might be being overly ambitious and would it be able to deliver. Key feedback included comments on workforce retention in the private and public sector and was there the capacity to fill jobs on offer. Other comments were in favour of a specific rural strategy with its own set of priorities, and a specific strategy on connectivity in respect of joint working in some sectors. The Council was looking to re-instigate the consultation period and would be organising a specific stakeholder conference in the autumn to assess the extent of our ambition, the main strategies and would look at the key actions.
Councillor S Neville supported protecting the green heritage while pursuing growth but there was nothing to tackle climate change or how to achieve a zero or low carbon economy in this area, as it had not been factored in? J Houston replied that perhaps this needed to be strengthened. He acknowledged the Local Plan had addressed climate change but would not be revisiting Local Plan issues, but rather complement it. Early feedback from members had been on mitigation, an integrated strategy for alternative forms of transport. Pressure on an integrated travel plan was required. Work on the green infrastructure also fitted in and that the revised document would make this clearer.
Councillor J H Whitehouse asked who the 150 recipients had been and how did Mr Houston want to deal with the consultation questions as she had many detailed points to raise. J Houston replied that Nurturing Growth was sent to the economic partners held on its database, all parish councils, the Corporation of London, Epping Forest College, (now New City College), Princess Alexandra Hospital, the Clinical Commissioning Group, our website and social media. A special presentation was also made to members of the Epping Forest Chamber of Commerce. The consultation period was extended as people had wanted more time to respond. He agreed to meet Councillor Whitehouse after the meeting to answer her questions directly.
Councillor H Kauffman asked about building resilience, as the District was losing people to London. There were not enough centres of excellence, industrial space or incubator sites and also no integrated transportation. He suggested that through investment and nurturing growth with technological partnerships, the Royal Gunpowder Mills site in Waltham Abbey offered a unique opportunity. Apprenticeships were needed and through the building of tech space there, this could be achieved and offered to help.
Councillor J McIvor asked if specific consultations targeting rural area attractions that were difficult to travel to would be undertaken to help develop tourism further. J Houston agreed he wanted to pick this up as a key issue was getting around in an environmentally friendly and healthy way. This included cycle ways, linking up to routes in and out of London and around neighbouring areas in East Hertfordshire. Tourism was in excess of £220 million a year in Epping Forest District. For East Herts, Broxbourne and Harlow, the tourism income was around £750 million, therefore, a substantial income, which potentially offered more employment opportunity than Stansted Airport.
Councillor G Mohindra welcomed this strategy, which was filling a vacuum that other public bodies had not yet done, because a lot of funding for local government would be coming from business rates. This Council might not be able to afford the services it currently enjoyed so therefore, it was a really important aspect that would help keep the Council well run.
Councillor A Patel commented that in other strategies that had been presented to the Council reference had been made back to its Corporate Plan and how strategies linked into the corporate objectives. He said it would be useful if these were explained in the introduction to relate to the overall strategy of the Council. J Houston agreed this would be done and to triangulate what we had in this plan. This would also help the Council to achieve better funding from Central Government than it had done in the past.
Councillor A Lion, Portfolio Holder (Strategic Projects), acknowledged that the key priorities identified had been put together. One of these was digital, implicitly the green agenda, to address working from home and for instance, to provide local services, e.g. closer to GPs. Princess Alexandra Hospital was 25 per cent down on nursing staff, as they could earn a lot more in London. How did you maintain and retain a skilled workforce as this would also be needed in Epping Forest? High streets were changing. How did you maintain the vibrancy of high streets with more people buying online? A key aspect on the green agenda was air quality monitoring. How could you link up street electronics to CCTV for traffic monitoring and car park control to minimise pollution? These issues were fundamental and were implicit to the ongoing work on economic development strategy.