A multi-million pound infrastructure and development package to give the economy of the county a major boost was unveiled today by West Sussex County Council.
The aim is to create and maintain jobs, boost tourism, as well as enabling access to high-speed broadband for businesses and residents in almost every part of the county.
The investment fund includes £15 million worth of support for new projects, many of which are being developed in conjunction with the county’s seven district and borough councils.
The County Council is also planning to accelerate its own capital programme by bringing forward into the next two financial years schemes worth around £35 million that had been due to take place between 2014 and 2017.
Today’s £50 million announcement comes just over a month after a full meeting of the County Council asked Lionel Barnard, Deputy Leader of the County Council, and Michael Brown, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, to look at the possibility of new capital investment and to identify projects that could be supported.
Lionel, who is responsible for Enterprise and Economic issues, said: “The state of the economy is causing concern locally as well as nationally, so we have acted quickly and decisively to bring forward this kick-start package of projects.
“I am confident that we are supporting schemes that will have a significant and long term benefit for the economy of West Sussex.
“This is being financed by capital funding – that is money from sources such as income from the sale of surplus land or property, specific government grants towards new infrastructure, and borrowing.
“Capital expenditure can only be spent on new or improved infrastructure. It is completely separate to the revenue funding that finances the day-to-day running of services.”
The proposed £15 million investment programme is divided into four categories - strategic schemes designed to have a countywide impact, and ones designed to help the coastal strip, Gatwick Diamond, and rural economy.
BROADBAND - £6.26 million to match the amount West Sussex was awarded by the Government in August to improve and extend the county’s network.
Lionel said: “A good broadband connection is vital for businesses, many of which are home-based. Our aim is to ensure much wider access, for residents and businesses, to a fast broadband connection.
“The funding will help us to achieve this goal, and we can now look to attract investment from internet providers. The whole package could eventually be worth £25 million depending on the scale of private investment. As well as helping businesses, access to a good broadband connection will help reduce social isolation and make it easier and cheaper for residents to access services.”
GREEN DEAL RETROFIT – West Sussex is set to become the first shire county council to launch a scheme that will allow people to invest in improving the energy efficiency of their homes with no up-front costs. Money spent on schemes such as solar panels or cavity or solid wall insulation, is recovered from savings on energy bills or as a charge if the property is sold.
The scheme, which is still to be worked up in detail, would be launched next year with £2 million, which could benefit up to 15,000 homes, and the County Council will be looking for a private sector partner to expand it potentially to all suitable homes in future years.
Lionel said: “As well as being good for the environment and cutting energy bills, it will create jobs. We will be working closely with local further education colleges to ensure people have the right training to undertake the kind of work involved.”
COMMUNITY FLOOD PREVENTION – A £1.5 million fund will support local communities raising money to help prevent the flooding of homes, and business premises.
Lionel said: “Communities will be able to bid for funds to put alongside what they raise locally to pay for schemes that protect homes and businesses and prevent their local economy from disruption.”
CHICHESTER FESTIVAL THEATRE – The fund is to contribute £1.5 million to the theatre’s £22 million ‘Renew’ plan which includes major improvements and new development to its 50 year old building. Local authority support is seen as vital to attracting new capital funds from Arts Council England.
An economic study by university experts found that the theatre is worth around £12.5 million to the local economy, and is responsible directly or indirectly for about 360 full time equivalent jobs.
Lionel said: “The theatre has an international reputation, and is also important in terms of tourism. The Grade II* Listed building is no longer fit for purpose. The ‘Renew’ proposal includes using construction contractors and associated services from the local area subject to the tender process, and expanding its work experience placements and youth theatre training programme.”
GATWICK DIAMOND SCHEMES:
Manor Royal Business District at Crawley - £600,000 of improvements to the estate will help retain businesses key to the local and wider economy. It will also support expanding businesses, and help bring forward key development and new opportunity sites by attracting developer interest and new occupiers.
Haywards Heath Business starter units - £600,000 towards a scheme to create units for new and growing businesses on a Mid Sussex District Council owned brownfield site.
West Street, Horsham - £500,000 to improve an outdated street scene and make this area of the town more attractive to businesses and shoppers. A similar scheme in East Street has had a positive impact on trade.
COASTAL STRIP SCHEMES:
Bognor Regis - £600,000 towards new employment opportunities. Proposals include attracting new cutting edge and knowledge based employment opportunities to the town, and developing a campus of small business units. Employment growth is currently hampered by a lack of suitable premises.
Worthing - £300,000 on a regeneration scheme for the town centre including a WiFi zone. Improvements to the town centre will provide easier access for tourists, shoppers and visitors. A high quality environment and WiFi will help draw inward investment and employers.
Shoreham - £200,000 on environmental and paving improvements in the town centre, designed to attract new investment in the local economy and increase visitor numbers.
• A £75,000 contribution to a scheme in the rural part of Chichester district to develop shared communal storage and distribution services aimed at helping local food producers cut their costs and create new jobs. The scheme could eventually be rolled out across the county.
• Another £75,000 investment in a scheme being developed by Horsham District Council and the Brinsbury campus of Chichester College on new facilities to help smaller food producers win contracts to supply the type of quantities needed by farm shops, restaurants and national food chains.
• A £50,000 investment in a Chichester District Council led project to develop a website that will use social media to help grow businesses.
Further details of the various local schemes will be available today from the District and Borough Councils.
County Council Leader Louise Goldsmith said: “The sluggish performance of the UK economy is mirrored in the West Sussex local economy and we believe it is imperative to do all we can to support businesses locally and to drive economic development.
“The package is also based around longer term investment from a wide range of public and private sector partners, and I am sure it will be welcomed by our residents and business community. The support from our District and Borough Councils was also key to being able to make this announcement.”
Schemes that will benefit from accelerating the capital programme include improvements to schools, roads and fire stations. More details will be available when the capital programme for 2012/13 and 2013/14 is finalised.
The County Council’s Policy and Resources Select Committee will discuss details of the investment package on Thursday, December 8, before a decision report is published.