‘Don’t ignore rural areas’

Proposed Local Enterprise Partnership must deliver economic growth in the countryside, says East Devon Business Forum.

East Devon Business Forum is calling for the proposed new Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership to focus on rural areas as much as urban centres to deliver future economic growth and resilience.

In its formal response to the draft prospectus, the EDBF says that the countryside provides a very real opportunity to improve both economic productivity and attract inward investment.

But, in order to realise the potential of our coastal and market towns and to develop more profitable land-based enterprise and tourism, the Heart of the South West needs a much improved communications infrastructure, both in terms of local transport networks and broadband connectivity, says the report.

It also stresses that another very serious barrier to economic growth is the disparity between average house prices and average earnings across large parts of Devon, Somerset, Torbay and Plymouth – an issue that has not, so far, been addressed in the draft prospectus.

Supacat, Otter Nurseries, Axminster Carpets and Crealy Park are among the East Devon businesses who say they experience very serious challenges recruiting staff due to the high cost of living in the area.

East Devon Business Forum points out that only by aligning appropriate new housing development with areas of employment growth, will the problem of housing provision and social structure be redressed. It says that the developments East of Exeter at Cranbrook, Exeter Science Park, Skypark, the Multimodal Freight Facility and Exeter Airport, must set a new standard and provide a model for the future.

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“The LEP must engage with and seek to co-ordinate the planning process to promote market led investment in business and residential infrastructure”, says the report.

The Forum also calls for “the LEP to partner our schools, colleges and universities to promote skills development and enterprise awareness as means of retaining more of our young people, confident of their future here in the Heart of the South West”.

With regards to the creation of the new LEP Board, the EDBF is demanding a rigorous and transparent appointment process. It requests “an explicit commitment to the Nolan Principles” (Lord Nolan’s seven principles of public life) to ensure the appointment to the Board of people with demonstrable skills in strategic thinking, project delivery and entrepreneurship.

The response adds; “The composition of the LEP Board must not be based simply on a desire to achieve a numerical balance between public, private and voluntary sector interests. Every member of the Board should be appointed on merit; demonstrating an ability to provide convincing strategic leadership within and on behalf of the Heart of the South West LEP.”

East Devon Business Forum has agreed to co-operate fully in the realisation of an overarching, strategic LEP Board for Devon and Somerset, Plymouth and Torbay and says it must be a priority to ensure the area is not left without a convincing, competent successor to the South West of England RDA for any length of time.