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World Class Universities
The Solent boasts no less than five university institutions including the University of Southampton, which is a prestigious 'Russell Group' university and recently voted the 18th best university in the UK by the Sunday Times. There is a significant skilled labour force being generated within the region and the challenge is to retain these people in the area to ensure that the Solent prospers both socially and economically.
Attracting Big Business
As well as retaining what we have, it is becoming of paramount importance to promote the region more intensely on both a national and international stage. Big business brings with it crucial employment opportunities and can often be the catalyst for regeneration and gentrification. These businesses are selecting locations globally and it therefore requires a clear strategy from business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce and Business South, as well as the political efforts of the various local authorities and local enterprise partnerships, to highlight the benefits of locating here.
Combined Unitary Authority
A potential way to better promote the region and accelerate economic growth is thought to be through devolution. The three main unitary authorities, Isle of Wight Council, Southampton City Council and Portsmouth City Council, together with the Solent LEP are seeking to agree what is termed the 'Solent Deal' with the government; the intention being to provide more local control, provide extra powers and deliver significant funding in the region of £900M over the next 30 years. This funding is essential investment for infrastructure, transport, homes, training and business support. There remain considerable obstacles to overcome to make this happen but the political will is certainly there from our main cities.
Major road works to introduce a SMART Motorway are to start imminently between junctions 4-11 of the M27 at a cost of £244M. The wider context is the ever-growing pressure on infrastructure linking the main conurbations from Bournemouth and Poole to the west to Portsmouth and Chichester to the east, Winchester to the north and the Isle of Wight to the south. There are many ideas being considered but the process is slow and the funding is challenging. All parties know how important infrastructure is to the continued prosperity of the region and solutions need to be found and delivered.
It was reported back in 2014 in the Strategic Housing Market Assessment commissioned by the Partnership for Urban South Hampshire (PUSH) that there is a need for some 4,160 new homes every year in the south Hampshire region up until 2036. This is a big number and the pressure is on all local authorities to promote sustainable development and achieve this level of house building. As well as the challenges around the planning system and the volatility in the underlying housing market, the region also suffers from a distinct lack of developable land as a result of the physical constraints shown in the infographic with much of the economic activity in the region taking place between two national parks, the New Forest and South Downs.
With some 100,000 new homes expected to be built in the region in the next 20 years there must also be a requirement for the creation of new jobs for these working families. Although the supply and demand of employment space fluctuates with changing market conditions, there is, and will remain in the foreseeable future, a severe lack of supply of modern 'fit-for-purpose' business accommodation. Even more so than for housing land there are very few sites in the region that can be developed for commercial use and a greater emphasis on this politically is needed to ensure that commercial development is viable and deliverable to support the region’s ambitious economic growth plans.