In October the South West Infrastructure Panel (SWIP) met for the first time in Exeter to create a unique independent platform to provide informed, strategic and objective advice to the government on critical infrastructure issues in the region.
Miranda housden cropped
Convened by ICE, this panel of 15 leaders and experts representing industry, business, academia, legal and local government will respond collectively to regional influencers, advocating the need for further investment in the South West.
The most striking fact was that many of these senior representatives were meeting each other for the first time, as there are few opportunities for cross sector collaboration in such a vast, fragmented geographical and political landscape.
Investment in areas like the Northern Powerhouse and Midlands Engine have been driven by collaboration, pressing the business case for industrial and economic growth across important local sectors. The South West, while the most successful tourist destination after London, is characterised by a wide range of industries with no one sector predominant. Although this has helped to preserve our unique status and attractive environment, making the business case for investment in infrastructure is more challenging.
The South West is characterised by a low wage economy. There is also significant contrast between the rural hinterland and urban centres, which drive broader economic growth.
Its low profile and lack of collective identity means that it is often bundled into a southern cluster with London and the South East, but the South West has a legacy of significant underfunding.
The recent ICE KMPG report Delivering a Northern Infrastructure Strategy sets out how a strategic approach to infrastructure across the North can drive economic growth and improve quality of life. It highlights how infrastructure investment in the North compares poorly with the South. However when you compare the South West (23,800km²) with the North West (14,100km²) within the National Infrastructure and Construction Pipeline, the South West will receive significantly less funding.
The relative lack of robust infrastructure and subsequent dependency on limited and vulnerable arterial routes makes our region especially vulnerable to disruption. Our population is spread across rural and coastal communities linked by few urban centres with often limited access to transport. The South West also experiences frequent extreme weather, including storms, flooding and coastal erosion. Combined with intense seasonal fluctuations of visitor numbers, all these factors serve to compound infrastructure issues.
It is suggested by the UK Collaboratorium for Research in Infrastructure & Cities that the South West urgently needs to conduct a diagnostics study of the infrastructure challenges, from which an evidenced, integrated, needs analysis and programme for addressing this can be identified.
We must play to our strengths, working with UKCRIC to produce an evidenced based cross sector vision of the region, persuading influencers of the credible and compelling argument for future investment in the South West.
● Miranda Housden is the ICE’s South West Regional director