On Tuesday evening this week a number of interested BHBPA members gathered at TKC to hear from MSDC about their proposed new economic development strategy. The last policy document was put together in 2013, and so a new five year plan is necessary and the key strategists wanted some input from the business community. Hence they asked me to set up this meeting. Fourteen interested parties turned up.
Sally Blomfield, recently appointed Head of Economic Development and Planning, came with Gordon Reay (Business Liaison Officer) to speak about their ideas for the new policy and to listen to opinions of business people about what is happening on the ground. The suggested vision they offered was …“Mid Sussex: an attractive place for businesses and people to grow and succeed” They then outlined the three themes underpinning this Vision, ie Places, Premises and People.
Thus they want to ensure in various ways that Mid Sussex attracts inward investment and delivers growth by providing the best environment for running a business.(Places)
They hope to ensure a mix of premises is available to encourage entrepreneurship, incubation, retention and relocation of businesses to Mid Sussex (Premises)
They wish to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to benefit from economic growth (People)
They are keen to ensure the continued economic success of Mid Sussex by proactively marketing the District’s competitive advantages.
There was much discussion and many questions from the floor about this policy. The major concern, unsurprisingly, was about the chances of growing a business when there seems to be so little in the way of premises on offer, especially in freehold terms. Understandably, people want to own the land on which their business stands, just as citizens would prefer to own their house. It is much more cost effective. However, as many business leaders have told me, there are too few opportunities to buy in this part of the country. Developers and landowners hold on to the land, knowing that the price will go up. The same is true for the land owned by MSDC. Sally explained that Councils find leasehold useful for income streams, in many ways better than a one-hit sale sum.
The new business parks planned for the west of the town on the A2300 were discussed, and the same problem came up there – people are looking to expand and looking to buy a property, but they see very little chance to do so. This may lead to businesses looking elsewhere, and the danger is that Mid Sussex will lose some of its excellent businesses. There seemed to be no easy resolution to this issue. One member, from a large German company, explained that the parent company had cash to buy and couldn’t understand how it was not possible in England to be unable to buy the land for a large successful business.
Other comments from the floor expressed some concern that MSDC should do more to promote and support the excellent business community in Burgess Hill, and that perhaps they should devote more time and resources to economic development. It was pointed out that MSDC had a table at our recent BHBiz Awards Event, and certainly that could be seen as a statement of intent from the Council that they will become more involved with the business community.
Nothing was resolved at the meeting, but it was a useful discussion and a chance to let the Council know about the concerns of the business community.