Earlier this week I had the pleasure of showing the Greater Brighton Economic Board around our town. The board is made up of a combination of local authorities, education providers, economic groups and businesses covering our region and has responsibility for growing the economy in our part of the South East, with its own council-like structure and budget. From the feedback I’ve received, the tour of both our town centre and Manor Royal left participants amazed by the level of investment and growth taking place in Crawley.
While the City Deal to set the board up was back in 2014, part of the first wave of recent English devolution, Crawley Borough Council only took the decision to join last Autumn. That decision was taken for a number of reasons, partly as an opportunity to access another investment stream for the town and potentially another mechanism for physically bringing schemes forward, but far more important to my mind was the role it could play in lobbying for our area.
Infrastructure in the South East is creaking, with railway capacity alone all but exhausted. While London’s transport has always been well-financed and the North and Midlands are now seeing greater investment, such as with HS2, no serious investment is planned for the South East and unlike those areas we have no Mayor to lobby for our area. To counter this we need far greater co-operation between councils in our patch to ensure that we can provide a unified voice to Government on what we require to meet the needs of our communities and deliver the future we want for our districts, boroughs and cities. For two years we worked to try and deliver this through a devolution deal for Sussex and Surrey, where that plan failed we hope Greater Brighton may yet succeed.