Gloucestershire: How we’re driving success
- Credit: Archant
Sustainable economic growth, creating jobs and business opportunities is the driving force behind GFirst LEP’s ambitions for the county. Tanya Gledhill looks at its key projects
It’s GFirst LEP’s mission to future-proof Gloucestershire - to drive sustainable economic growth throughout the county, creating jobs and business opportunities for thousands of people.
As part of the Strategic Economic Plan (SEP), the LEP has brought £106.63m into the county through the Gloucestershire Growth Deal, and €41m in European funding through its EU Structural and Investment Funds Strategy.
Thanks to these deals, more than 30 projects are live across the county, from transport links to a wholesale expansion of the Growth Hub network.
Dev Chakraborty, Deputy Chief Executive of GFirst, said it was fantastic to see so many projects bearing fruit just 18 months after the funding was announced.
Already completed are improvements to the A40 Elmbridge Court roundabout near Gloucester; the county’s first Cyber Security Centre; Growth Hub network expansion and the road network at Gloucestershire Airport.
Works in progress include Cheltenham Cyber Park, the UK’s first Digital Retail Innovation Centre, a new Gloucestershire College campus in the Forest of Dean and Gloucester’s new state-of-the-art bus station.
A40 Elmbridge Court
With an innovative ‘hamburger’ design, changes to this key junction near Gloucester were designed to improve the flow of traffic and cut congestion at one of the county’s busiest intersections.
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With £9m of Growth Deal funding allocated, the project was completed on time and on budget, opening in September last year.
Improvements to the roundabout have increased capacity, reduced delays and improved journeys at peak times.
They include a new straight-on ‘hamburger’ lane, a widening of the approach lanes and the latest traffic light technology.
“Like any major roads project, people think it’s a nightmare when it’s under construction,” said Dev. “And then it opens and people say ‘oh I like this hamburger format and it’s saving me five minutes in and out of work’. That’s lovely.”
Farm491, based at the Royal Agricultural University in Cirencester, is a cutting-edge enterprise hub.
Built with £2.92m of Growth Deal funding, the Harnhill farm development opened in June last year, followed by the technological centre at the university.
Developed as a co-working environment for innovators to grow their businesses by applying technology to agriculture, the Farm491 hub provides high-spec facilities to foster entrepreneurship, ideas and collaboration.
“On the innovation side, Farm 491 is now starting to get traction and incubation with new entrepreneurs going into that,” Dev added. “It’s brilliant.
“And we’re going to complement that with further investment of £1m into Hartpury College, which will be a university imminently, so we’ll have three universities within the county.
“Again, that’s all to do with agriculture and trying to help develop the latest technology.
Growth Hub network expansion
The Growth Hub, based at the University of Gloucestershire’s Oxstalls Campus, is a partnership between the university and LEP.
Under construction currently is a bright new Growth Hub building which will house the university’s business school as well as existing facilities.
“The two biggest projects at the moment which I’m most proud of belong to the Growth Hub,” said Dev.
“As the LEP we’ve invested 9.4m into the Growth Hub network.
“So that includes the brand new facility here, which will be 50% bigger than the current Growth Hub, and will house the current Business School from Park Campus in Cheltenham and the LEP’s offices. But also we’re rolling out the Growth Hub network across the country.
“There is already a mini Growth Hub within all 31 libraries across the county, something that no other LEP has done to date, and also there will be five larger facilities, on a similar scale to this place, one in each of the districts.
“There’ll be a brand new building in Cirencester at the RAU; there’s one at Tewkesbury Borough Council; one in Stroud; one in the Forest of Dean and one in Cheltenham.
“It’s something that we’re very proud of. In the first three years we had 10,000 businesses come through the doors and we’re very proud of the feedback that we’ve had for that.”
The UK Cyber Business Park is a joint public and private sector initiative aimed at creating the UK’s first dedicated hub to support the growth and development of new cyber security businesses, technology, research and skills.
Based on an area of land near GCH in Springbank, the park will be a focal point for cyber security internationally and the first of its kind in the UK.
Billed as a “key strand of economic growth” for Cheltenham, a planned opening date of 2010 has been set. The finished park will support the development of UK cyber security capability through the location on a single site of Government, academia and industry.
“Most people have heard that we’re hoping to develop the UK’s first Cyber Park based in west Cheltenham,” said Deve.
“It’s 45ha of land right in the shadows of GCHQ. The LEP is investing £22m into that and that will get the roads sorted and the research for the planning system.
“We’re working very closely with GCHQ and we’re hoping they will base the National Cyber Security Centre there.”
Time is of the essence, he said.
“With the Growth Deal funding, we’ve got a tight schedule to spend this money by mid 2021, so a lot of people and a lot of Government departments are going to have to pull out the stops to help us and developers get this off the ground,” Dev added. “That will create 7,500 jobs and almost 1,000 homes, which is something which we’re lacking in the county.”
Educational centres have been set up across the county to encourage science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) training to clear the route into industry and close the skills gap.
Growth Deal funding of £2.1m was allocated to the project, and now five STEM centres are being used by students across the county.
At Cirencester College, the STEM centre was jointly funded by GFirst and the Education Funding Agency, allowing the college to meet the needs of local employers who want to recruit young people with STEM qualifications.
In addition two new construction centres have been created in Cheltenham and the Forest of Dean, and a £700,000 cash injection was given to Hartpury for the upgrade of veterinary science labs and enhance the ongoing provision of STEM courses.
GREEN Skills Centre
The £5m redevelopment of Berkeley’s old nuclear laboratories has created the GREEN - Gloucestershire Renewable Energy, Engineering and Nuclear - Skills Centre to prepare young people for STEM roles.
The initial funding will lead to £35m leverage by 2021.
The first students took up their places in September last year at the centre, which sits within the 50-acre Gloucestershire Science and Technology Park. It also includes facilities for business start-ups and research.
GREEN caters of the provision of some of the 45,000 skilled jobs estimated to be needed for the supply chain for major engineering projects and the low-carbon industry.
Affordable housing is key to stemming the flow of the 400 18-30-year-olds who leave Gloucestershire each year in search of jobs in the hubs of Bristol and London.
In February, the Gloucestershire 2050 Vision was unveiled - an ambitious plan to shore up the county’s long-term future, transforming it into a connected, innovative, prosperous, inclusive, happy, healthy county.
Six ‘Big Ideas’ were launched, including the creation of the cyber park; a Super City; regional parks; a new bridge over the Severn at Sharpness; the expansion of Cotswold Airport and the promotion of Cotswold Water Park as an internationally-renowned tourist destination.
But a serious shortage of housing in all districts would hamper progress, said Dev.
“The Joint Core Strategy (JCS), which was pulled together by three of the districts, has allocated specific allocated numbers to key areas and for us, Tewkesbury comes out as the largest,” he said.
“But it’s not just housing, it’s affordable housing here.
“A huge percentage of the houses being built will have to be affordable, because we want to keep the next generation here and not let them go off to London or Bristol. We want them to stay here, live here and buy houses here.”
For more information, visit the GFirst LEP’s website here.