Ray Dawe: Why do we need any economic development?

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Well, firstly look what happens when growth disappears and we fall into recession. People get very concerned about falling incomes and rising unemployment. But now the opposite is true, things are starting to look much better and we are at very long last getting economic growth.

However, there is still an enormous problem. Last year the Government had to borrow £2.5 billion per week just to fund day to day expenditure on pensions, health, education and so on. This is down from £3 billion per week when the Coalition Government came to power but is still far too high.

The Government has reduced this gap by increasing taxes and cutting its spending. This huge amount of borrowing cannot continue and has to be cut further. Undoubtedly more expenditure cuts and possibly tax increases will come. There is however another way of helping to reduce this borrowing and keep taxes down, while maintaining our benefit payments and pensions and investing in infrastructure. This is to get economic growth. This will increase earnings, reduce unemployment and other benefit expenditure and boost consumer spending, which in turn will increase the amount of tax the Government receives.

The need to achieve economic growth is not something that can be left to everyone else to sort out while we sit quietly by. Nearly a half of our District’s population lives in and around Horsham town and this is part of one of the most dynamic economic areas in the country, the so-called ‘Gatwick Diamond’ development region and we have to make our contribution.

We need to do this both because without it our ‘Preferred Srategy’ that is currently out for consultation will not get past a Government inspector and because leaving things just as they are means eventually that our area starts to lose people and jobs. So keen is the Government for us to provide a means for economic growth that it is changing the way it funds local councils. It is rapidly cutting back on the grant it gives us and is making the funding of council services a lot more dependent on business rates paid by local companies.

In a document called the National Planning Policy Framework the Government tells councils: “To help achieve economic growth, local planning authorities should plan proactively to meet the development needs of business and support an economy fit for the 21st century.” In other words, it places a very strong emphasis on this need to promote economic growth. A further reason for planning for economic development is to provide jobs for people of working age in the District. Each year, as a new crop of young people enters the job market, they are counting on economic growth to make room for them in the job market too.

So how do we achieve this? Well, regular readers of this paper will be familiar with what we are proposing in the Preferred Strategy: a new business park to the North of Horsham on the A264 to the M23 and Gatwick.

My council colleague, Claire Vickers, is this week in this newspaper answering a whole series of questions about the site. I will not duplicate what she is saying other than to respond to the idea that there are other viable sites available instead. The most recent review of employment land in Horsham said: “In general there is limited vacant land and premises with development potential within existing sites. Generally the urban sites are intensively used. Some more rural locations offer potential for intensification but often are not considered particularly attractive to the market or represent sustainable locations for investment.”

This review ended by saying that we need sites and premises, ‘that support the retention of existing businesses and provide suitable floor space for growing businesses’. I strongly emphasise the point here that retention of existing businesses, allowing them and number of the jobs that they offer to be maintained and where possible to grow, along with attracting new companies, is vital to our future prosperity.

I note that Claire, in her responses as to why the various other sites are not viable, has used an analogy that I think makes the point as to ‘why choose North Horsham?’ very simple and I will put it again here. In essence, it runs like this … although we have empty shops in Horsham town, what hope would we have of attracting John Lewis to the town if we were only offering those? The clear answer is ‘none’. We are working hard to get them to come to Horsham against strong competition from other towns by offering the right site in the right location. When you are trying to attract (or keep existing) up-market commercial firms in our District, exactly the same rules apply!

This is why we are fortunate that we have in Liberty Property a company expert in developing up-market commercial areas and one willing to invest over £25 million of its own money to get this project off the ground. They have a most impressive record of attracting large national and international companies as can be seen in their very successful business park developments in Cambridge and in Kent. They are confident they can repeat this success at North Horsham and provide exactly the kind of higher skilled, better paid employment that we all want for our residents and our children as they grow up.