Ways to expand West London’s economy were discussed by industry leaders, from both established and start-up sectors.
The seminar ‘Unlocking Employment and Commercial Opportunity’ at the Capital West London Growth Summit outlined progress and restrictions in specific industries.
Stuart Baillie, Head of Planning, GL Hearn property consultants, told delegates industrial land was a particular area his company had identified for growth.
He said: “We’re working with West London boroughs on supply and demand of industrial land. It feels like we are in an important time. The GLA has responded to trends of a 12 per cent decline of floorspace in West London.”
However, he said planning policy was a barrier to growth. “Planning policy takes two years coming to adoption. We are working in a fast-paced digital environment and planning policy can’t keep up.”
Prologis, the UK’s leading developer and owner of logistics property, owns a site in Hayes, West London, strategically located for Heathrow airport. The company is seeking to overcome a number of difficulties to direct additional investment to West London.
Director Oliver Bycroft, said that to invest in multi-story warehousing there were issues with determining what specifically occupiers want, along with interruptions to the supply chain which caused reputational and financial damage.
“We have to lease these buildings and we have to convince occupiers they’re at least as good as a single-storey warehouse,” he said. “Not every site is suitable for intensification of use. It needs to be a site of 10 hectares, relatively rectangular. There’s risk as a business, £200 million to develop a 10-hectare site into a sector that’s untested. We want to build one and learn the lessons.”
He added: “There’s potential for more collaboration between public and private sector. Prologis is committed but it will need further work.”
Diana Foxlee, Head of Real Estate at Sky, which has its headquarters in Hounslow, praised the progressive local authority, saying: “We have a continuous appetite for change and we have always worked closely with the council. They have been an enabler, not a blocker.”
And Councillor Graham Henson, Leader, London Borough of Harrow, explained how the council was also supporting small businesses as well as large companies, in West London.
He said: “Local procurement ensures small businesses can apply for these contracts. It’s about trying to support them to make sure they don’t fail. We hold a lot of seminars and workshops, even networking, we facilitate business mentoring. Business start-up survival rates are some of the best in London but we can’t do it our own. We work across West London and I think we should be a partnership. It’s about getting people out of unemployment and as a council we want to improve people’s quality of life.”
However, Colin Stanbridge, Chief Executive, London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, believes SMEs need even more support.
“Everyone pays lip service to SMEs, saying they’re the heart of the local economy but when it comes down to politicians paying attention to them, it seems to be a different problem” he said.
He highlighted difficulties that SMEs have had with the Apprentice Levy and applying the London Living Wage, and added: “It’s a fragile state and you mess with it at your peril. They are really important to the economy and these small companies might become the bigger companies of tomorrow.”