Sunday, 27 December 2015

"Regeneration and economic development" in East Devon >>> looking beyond the conventional, the ideological and the heavyhanded

Cabinet will be meeting on 6th January to look at 'regeneration' and Port Royal:
Futures Forum: Plans for Port Royal: anticipating a Regeneration Board >>> ‘Scoping Report for the eastern end of Sidmouth’ to be presented to Cabinet >>> Wednesday 6th January

There has certainly been a history of enthusiasm for 'regeneration' in East Devon:
Futures Forum: Redeveloping East Devon >>> of 'income streams' and 'regeneration'

Indeed, the deputy CEO was enthusing about 'opportunities and innovation' three years ago:
Richard Cohen, East Devon’s Deputy CEO on opportunities & innovation | Room 151

These notions have been given further impetus by central government - as highlighted in a special report for January's Cabinet meeting. The implications, however, are considerable. 

Here are the main points from the agenda - together with commentary:

Regeneration and Economic Development Special Item 
- Proposed Budget 2016-17

Shift in Council Funding: 
The future of Gov. funding means we now need to resource, promote and manage business growth. The ground on which local authorities exist is shifting and it is becoming clear that the government is moving towards reward only funding. The 2015 Autumn Statement dictates that councils must raise more of their own revenue and has identified economic growth as an expectation through plans for the local government retention of business rates.

[Comment: Cuts to local government could present opportunities - but unfortunately the District Council is only talking about 'growth' in a very conventional, if not ideological, way: Futures Forum: The decline of social democracy, the rise of austerity and the promise for local politics]

This business growth agenda for local authorities has been set. Our focus now needs to be on the active promotion of inward investment, encouraging indigenous business growth, more effectively facilitating the provision and development of employment land across the district and active fund finding.

[Comment: The talk of 'employment land' sounds ominous - as if this can automatically promote 'business growth'. Firstly, 'employment land' is normally some other kind of land and has to be re-labelled: Futures Forum: What exactly do we want to do with our land in East Devon? 

Secondly, we have to ask exactly who promoted the notion of 'effectively facilitating the provision and development of employment land across the district': Futures Forum: A history of the East Devon Business Forum, part nine ... "The local development framework would enable businesses to progress land allocation. It was agreed that the strategy should reflect the Forum’s views." and Futures Forum: A history of the East Devon Business Forum, part three... "Members of the Business Forum often underestimated its influence on policy at EDDC; an example was for the need for more employment land in the District." and Futures Forum: A history of the East Devon Business Forum, part two... "It mostly represents a number of businesss that councillors and ex-councillors are involved in and those where councillors and ex-councillors own where land which was permitted to be changed from agricultural land to industrial land." and Futures Forum: The East Devon Business Forum, housing numbers and greenfield sites]

The draft Local Plan retains a target of 1 job per new home. The Plan currently predicts 18,500 new homes over the Plan period. The allocation of the new Enterprise Zone in the west of the District will require significant resource from both the Growth Point Team and the Council’s R+ED Team to maximise benefit and ensure that those benefits accrue across the District. 

[Comment: The figure of 'one job, one new home' has been hotly contested. The original Tym's Report questioned the standard ratio of one house, one job - which in turn undermined the circular argument that building more housing necessitates more employment opportunities: "The Sidmouth Chamber of Commerce welcomed the Tym’s Report in questioning the District Council’s assumed relationship of jobs to households of ‘roughly 1:1’: “…rather, they have recalibrated it to an exact relationship of 0.81:1, which a very different number”:
http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/sidmouth_chamber_of_commerce_300811.pdf and 
http://www.eastdevon.gov.uk/plg_lp_edhousingstudy.pdf and 
Futures Forum: Housing crisis in Sidmouth - what housing crisis? .... "Evidence for a housing shortage is hard to come by."

The Draft Council Plan 2016 – 2020 identifies the following commitments, required to promote improved rates retention, but for which additional resource is required to deliver: 
 An economy which attracts inward investment 
 An economy which stimulates start ups and new businesses to grow to bring better paid jobs and increased wealth into East Devon 
 Generation of new income streams (reducing our dependence on council tax and government funding) 
 Greater investment and economic growth into East Devon through strategic working with neighbouring authorities and other agencies. 
 Promotion of East Devon and the wider region to create value and enjoyment of the area. 

[Comment: Traditionally, East Devon's economy has been based on SMEs: Futures Forum: "Statistics show us that small and medium-size businesses (including those in tourism) are our life blood."

It is not about 'inward investment' with politicians hobnobbing with bigger fish: Futures Forum: Foreign Direct Investment ... vs ... supporting locally-owned small businesses 

And it does not necessarily mean that any 'strategic working with neighbouring authorities' will 'generate growth' in any particularly accountable way: Futures Forum: Devolution for Devon and Somerset? >>> of Local Enterprise Partnerships and 'what happens when a lobby group of landowners and developers gains too much influence over the democratic planning process'

Our EHOD area is a key driver for growth in the Heart of the South West LEP area. We are not content to aim for the average through our devolution bid – our ambitions lie in high tech growth and an improved knowledge economy, exploiting the opportunities now emerging through our Growth Point and Enterprise Zone. We need to step up these opportunities but also to address our local challenges – lower than average wages, productivity and new business formation.

[Comment: The 'Exeter and Heart of Devon' connection sounds to many that East Devon is becoming a simple adjunct to the city next door: Futures Forum: Of Cranbrook and Greater Exeter

When it comes to 'high tech growth and an improved knowledge economy', it is clear that currently East Devon relies on the tourism and care industries - which are notoriously low-wage: Futures Forum: Jobs and services: the hospitality industry and Futures Forum: Jobs and services: caring for the elderly 

However, the debacle over broadband in the District does not bode well for the 'knowledge economy': Broadband for Devon and Somerset – the (fantasy?) saga continues | East Devon Watch and Futures Forum: Devolution for Devon and Somerset? >>> Scrutiny Cttee declines to give District Council Leader power to sign devolution bid >>> postponed to full Council 16th Dec]

Local Economic Challenges are identified in the District Profile for East Devon (Grant Thornton, Feb 2015). They include: 
 The average gross weekly earnings in East Devon are low at £409 compared with £503 nationally 
 The knowledge economy in East Devon accounted for just 13.5% of total employment in 2013, compared with 18.13% for the SW and 21.75% nationally 
 The self employment rate in East Devon is high and stable by national standards but new business formation rate is very low, ranking in the bottom 20%.

[Comment: If traditionally the Small and Medium-sized Enterprise is strong in East Devon, then why undermine them by giving a helping hand rather too readily to the big boys? Futures Forum: Crony capitalism and lemon socialism in East Devon... The costs of "substantial growth and expanding business"

Why not something a little less heavy-handed when it comes to 'development'? Futures Forum: Redeveloping East Devon >>> the alternatives to a heavy-handed approach

For example, in Exmouth: Futures Forum: Redeveloping Exmouth >>> "All it needs is a light touch refurbishment."]

A key role for the Economic Development team is to create the conditions for more businesses to develop across East Devon and to retain the workforce in the District (Draft Council Plan, 2015). The benefit will be more jobs, money in circulation and business rates income to the Council. The towns to the east of the District have seen less growth than the west end and this presents an opportunity to the Council to assist in delivering this growth. 

[Comment: There is little risk of not being able to 'retain the workforce in the District'. Rather, there is in fact very little movement of the labour force within or to and from the District: "levels of commuting in East Devon and especially Sidmouth are quite low by national standards. We feel that commuting is surprisingly low in the area given that the major employment centre of Exeter is just outside the District boundary." https://www.visionforsidmouth.org/media/65397/representation-to-local-plan-final-version-vgs-14jan13.pdf and East Devon Proposed Local Plan Consultation 2012 and Letter to Cllr M Williamson, Chairman of the Development Management Committee, EDDC | Save Our Sidmouth

Of course, in order to facilitate 'money in circulation', the area could adopt its own local currency, as in neighbouring Exeter: Futures Forum: Exeter Pound official launch >>> Tuesday 1st September

A key driver behind our regeneration interventions is the improvement of the visitor economy in visibility and mix of facilities and infrastructure. East Devon has much to offer tourists with its world heritage status coastline, beaches, AONBs, attractive towns and villages and numerous attractions that bring people to the district. However, tourism numbers have been in decline in recent years as evidenced in the South West Regional Tourist Board data (2011). This indicated a fall in visitors to East Devon from 800,000 visitor trips per annum in 2005 to 472,000 visitor trips in 2011. The income from overnight stays also fell from 3.7m to 1.8m in the same period. 

[Comment: Tourism is very important for this area: Futures Forum: Tourism awards for East Devon: ""You are all very special - in an era of ever dwindling public sector funding you are the industry leaders who can take Devon forward."

And yet the District Council has not been exactly keen on promoting the tourist trade: Futures Forum: "Tourism rises" ... but questions remain for East Devon and Futures Forum: Looking to the future of the South West seaside town ... part two and Futures Forum: "We need a Tourism Officer to promote East Devon as one"

In fact, it seems to be killing the goose that's laying the golden eggs, whether the AONBs: Futures Forum: District Council draft Local Plan: and the AONB

... or the 'attractive towns and villages': Futures Forum: Knowle relocation project: "How buildings sit in their landscape"]

The Council is adept at using its assets to de-risk locations and attract private sector interest. The delivery of the new Premier Inn in Exmouth and the commercial success around Exmouth Strand are two examples of where the Council has used its land and property assets to achieve this aim. We expect similar impact of Seaton Jurassic. 

[Comment: The EDW blog has already highlighted the disappointing outcomes of the District Council's approach to managing the local economy: East Devon economy booming? Not according to Cabinet agenda data | East Devon Watch

The example of 'regenerating' Exmouth has been incredibly contentious, especially regarding 'private sector interest': Futures Forum: The 'regeneration' of Exmouth seafront

And it is clear that the District Council has been talking up the 'impact' of the new centre in Seaton: Futures Forum: The Carbuncle Cup Prize for East Devon's new buildings

Moreover, rather than invite big national/multinational players in, why not rely on local businesses to provide development? Futures Forum: CPRE: 'Getting Houses Built' >>> supporting small builders and improving the viability of brownfield development

Ultimately, though, where is the principle of 'sustainable growth'? Futures Forum: Development for Sustainability: Futures Forum meeting]

Agenda for Cabinet - Wednesday, 6 January 2016 (pages 107-110).

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