The recent South Coast Property Awards was a resounding endorsement and testament to the enthusiasm, commitment and skill in the property industry across the South Coast region. The breadth and depth of talent is evident, as is the fantastic work being done to make this area a better place. But, writes Robin Shepherd, partner, Barton Willmore, the evening’s celebration left me with a burning question: are we hiding our light under a bushel?
When we look at what the South Coast has to offer, the list of assets appears endless: the location – a 100 miles of coastline broadly within an hour of London, four leading universities (one of which is in the Russell Group), three international ports including the pre-eminent cruise terminals for the UK, two international airports, two National Parks, one million people, above average levels of prosperity, the UK’s most reputable sailing environment, hosting some of the world’s most famous yachting festivals, four world heritage sites, and the best weather the UK can offer. And that’s just a start … I think we should be shouting from the rooftops about what an amazing place this is.
And yet, we don’t hear too much about the area selling itself to the outside world. The cities may be world famous for different reasons, but as a place to live, work, invest in…? Why would I choose to do that here as opposed to anywhere else? What can I achieve here that I can’t elsewhere? As a region, we no longer compete within ourselves, not even to the rest of the UK, but to overseas. In a post-Brexit world, this means increasingly looking to the Middle and Far East, to the US and even to emerging markets across the globe.
But before we can shout from the rooftops, I think we need to know what to shout about. Do we really know what we are doing? And do we know what we want to be? The retirement capital of the UK maybe? Do we want to be a vanilla place where we aren’t quite as good as other areas, but on balance we are pretty good? Like a supercar in a garage, a place that doesn’t quite make enough of its assets?
Maybe we have become complacent or maybe we have ridden off the back of being relatively prosperous for many years. But vast tracts of the entire South Coast area take more from the public purse than they contribute. We are in debt. And I’m not sure we know how to get out of it. Other areas have overtaken us, wanted growth and success more than we have; and sweated their far more limited assets to secure their growth and future.
The South Coast will still need growth – to find much more land for development. Will the area use this as an opportunity to make the area better? Many other areas have – by leveraging investment for much needed infrastructure and local services, by ensuring homes provided are related to our projected economic growth, by making the area attractive for investment through a long-term plan and focusing attention on our cities to become more beautiful, attractive and prosperous places – powerhouses for the local economy. It’s the difference between good growth and bad growth.
It’s simple to achieve this – we need a strong vision. A vision that will put us on the world map. Once we have this, we can then look to secure what we want to become. Isn’t this the role of our councils? No. This is the role of business – to lead the way in driving for growth, for a better place to live, enjoy and unashamedly create wealth. But of course, yes, we must collaborate – the private and public sector working together toward a common vision.
“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody” Jane Jacobs
As I write this, the horns of two cruise ships echo across the Solent shouting out their own celebration of the sea. They know what they are and where they are going. So don’t we also need to announce to the world what we are and where we are going – the question is: who wants to come aboard?