What kind of growth?
There is a very interesting new plan being developed, the East Sussex Growth Strategy. It’s being put together by Team East Sussex, the body that brings private and public sectors around a very large table, with the aim of encouraging economic development throughout the county.
I insisted that the steering group must properly involve district councils, as well as the county council. Each of the five districts in East Sussex (Eastbourne, Lewes, Rother, Wealden and Hastings) are different, with a wide variety of strengths and weaknesses. And any decent 20 year plan will aim to support those most in need, so that our economy is more equal. If we ensure better education and training close to home, we will have a more confident society, better able to follow their dreams, better able to take up the new employment possibilities as more and more employers choose to invest here.
We already have great economic strengths. The creative community in Hastings, always important, always a key factor in local life, has grown dramatically over the last ten years. Our policy of regeneration through culture has worked well, and now this brilliant sector has a life of its own, attracting more talented people to move here. Many earn their living from working all over the world, and of course that’s far easier post COVID-19, as online connectivity is transformed, and commuting increasingly a thing of the past. What Hastings needs now is for this community to play more of a role in improving the education sector, more of a role in promoting other investors to set up new jobs here, more of a role in defining our tourism image. The new plan must support this.
We also have an important cluster of high value high tech engineering, with parts made here for the Hadron collider, and parts too for the Mars probe. This sector can offer excellent career opportunities, and if we get the training right, more local residents can fill these jobs, rather than people driving in from a county wide radius. Another challenge for the plan.
And healthy growth needs a really special town centre, attractive to visit, attractive to work in, and attractive to live in too. Our three town centres are all different, and the Old Town and St Leonards have real character. Our growth plan needs big investment in all of our infrastructure, so we have three beautiful, green, vibrant and varied town centres. And town centres adapted to be able to withstand climate change, free from flooding, shaded from the heat, open to the sea.
And a growth plan has to invest in people where they live. So our edge of town communities need help, better housing, better community facilities, better health services, better education, better public transport. We are piloting this approach at Broomgrove, an approach that builds growth bottom up, with priorities decided locally not by those in London or Lewes (where the county council is based). Ore, Hollington and Central St Leonards need this too.
So my first chat with the new Chair of Team East Sussex covered a lot of ground but he wasn’t fazed. He agreed we need to think big. And he agreed that Hastings really matters. Let’s see if the draft plan reflects this. And let’s ensure the growth we go for is the right growth, growth for all.