The annual sub-regional economic development summit took place on October 22, and was opened by the chair of the advisory board, Richard Barnes, who gave the first warning against resting on laurels. He said that West London needed to focus on staying ahead of other parts of London, the UK, and Europe in the competition for jobs and growth.
Keynote speaker Sir Robin Wales, Mayor of Newham, is a living embodiment of the challenge other areas can bring to West London’s economic pre-eminence. The changes in and around the Olympic Park, and the work going on to regenerate the Royal Docks – which has already produced a landmark agreement with Chinese developer ABP to bring over 50 Chinese companies into Newham – is a demonstration of the step changes that can be produced with energy, commitment and resource.
Sir Robin also gave an uplifting example of what an area can do with his story of the regeneration catalysed by the Olympics, which holds many lessons for West London.
He spoke of the work Newham Council and others have done on “resilience and capacity”, which, in the context of regeneration, means a focus on building skills in young people to provide a local talent pool for businesses choosing to locate in the area. He emphasised that skills needed to be appropriate for employers, and not just popular with students – using as an example the number of students who qualify from hairdressing courses and do not, in fact, find work in that area.
He also emphasised that what has been achieved in Newham was helped immeasurably by genuine public/private sector partnership – an essential element of successful large scale regeneration programme, and a lesson for the mega-schemes being discussed in West London such as White City and Old Oak Common.
One of his graphs – designed to show the amount of land opportunity in Newham – neatly illustrated the same over-sized opportunity in a number of western boroughs, in particular in Hammersmith & Fulham, one of the smallest boroughs by area, but among the largest after Newham in the opportunity stakes (see picture above).
Sir Robin poked fun at opponents of Heathrow expansion, saying: “What is it with west London? You build an airport, generate thousands of jobs, grow an economy, then say – oh, it’s a bit noisy!”. He jokingly said that he’d be delighted if Heathrow closed, and the airport moved east, as it would benefit his residents – although Chris Choa of AECOM later showed that Stratford is closer in distance and (once Crossrail is open) time to Heathrow than to either Stansted or the sites of the Estuary proposals.