Monday, 18 November 2013

IN DEPTH: Economic signposts for West Kent projects

As an agency based in West Kent, Maxim knows only too well the economic opportunities and challenges facing this particular area. 

For developers considering bringing forward proposals, it essential they promote how they will make a positive economic impact and support the region. But what are the challenges?

A recent report, ‘West Kent Priorities for Growth’, published by the West Kent Partnership, highlights a few important signposts to help frame any economic impact assessment. The West Kent Investment Strategy (WKIS) 2010-15, which is based on a comprehensive analysis of the local economy, outlines the issues.

Underperforming the South East
Recent economic research shows the West Kent economy continues to underperform the South East region, with GVA per capita only 74% of the South East average in 2008. Targeted investment to support the West Kent economy is now needed to avoid risk that local economic growth will decline, which would limit the area’s potential.

Key issues include:
·      Low unemployment, but recruitment problems and a lack of skills within the labour force - exacerbated by high local house prices - are driving younger employees to jobs in other areas where home ownership is more affordable.
·      An area of affluence but this masks pockets of deprivation, higher levels of worklessness and low levels of educational attainment.
·      Significant proportion of the local workforce has high level skills (NVQ 4 and 5), but 20% don’t possess basic qualifications (NVQ level 1) and lack basic work readiness ability.
·      Students entering Higher Education don’t return to local jobs because of high local house prices. Higher level skilled staff are being lost to London due to high rates of commuting, leaving local businesses without a pool of new graduates and the skills they have to offer.
·      An ageing population with little prospect of an increasing workforce in the next 20 years and potential additional skills shortages.
·      A relative shortage of good quality and adequately serviced sites and premises which potentially constrains West Kent’s capacity to promote start-ups and existing local businesses.
·      An attractive range of local market towns but some are struggling to maintain an appealing retail offer with a growing number of empty properties and a lack of private sector investment.
·      Rural and home-based businesses suffering from sub-standard broadband services which affects competitiveness.

Tackling connectivity
A key issue both for West Kent businesses and for new companies being created or considering relocation is maintaining and improving local connectivity.

One of the major future risks is that of road and rail capacity. Despite proximity to major motorways, there are growing instances of local delays and congestion. Poor local transport networks, delays and increased journey times could significantly hold back improvements in local business confidence and adversely affect future economic growth.

The key West Kent transport challenges are:
·      Poor transport connectivity, particularly, north-south links, and transport congestion at peak times on local routes such as the M20, A21, A26, A228 and access to M25/M26 which could increasingly impact on both West Kent and the coastal area to the south.
·      Increasingly poor local rail services into London relative to those now provided by the HS1 service from North Kent, Ashford and East Kent and reduced commuter journey times that are now available.

The West Kent Partnership is an economic and strategic partnership operating across Sevenoaks District and the boroughs of Tunbridge Wells and Tonbridge and Malling. It  promotes West Kent by championing key economic issues; engaging with industry and business and pursues external funding to develop and deliver initiatives to support our local economy. 

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