Cllr Stephen Cowan forecast a bright future for West London, as it recovers from the pandemic.
Cllr Cowan, leader of Hammersmith & Fulham Council and Chair of the West London Economic Prosperity Board (EPB) was delivering the keynote at the Capital West London Build & Recover Summit.
The EPB was set up way before COVID arrived, to help west London take advantage of the opportunities available to it as the UK’s second largest economy at £74bn. It’s been a useful piece of preparation, as, together, the boroughs have been better able to respond to the challenge presented by the coronavirus pandemic, and the prospect of the biggest recession since the 1720s
“The good news is we have the lessons of the past, the chancellor has reacted quickly and firmly to support people and businesses, and there are many things different about our society that will help us come through quickly”, said Cowan.
“West London has the capabilities to come out of any recession bigger and better than when we went in to it. We have Heathrow in the west, and are a perfect spot for anyone wanting to do business in the City and be based between it and the airport”.
“We have a vast number of trains and tubes, and are roughly 100 years ahead of east London in infrastructure. We have a highly educated workforce, and a population which is used to contributing to the economy”.
He praised the strong private sector and the wealth of employment. “Our leading institutions are helping – Westfield, Romulus, Olympia, the M4 Corridor, many media businesses, and Heathrow, the region’s biggest employer.”
He had a message for government – “London has pulled the UK out of every single recession. It’s easy, when focussed on levelling up, to just send investment north. But if they get it right in west London, the effects will be amplified nationwide.”
He said there were many “shovel ready schemes” primed for investment, and described the sub-region as one big innovation district, the benefit of which would spread out to the whole United Kingdom.
He highlighted a number of aspects of the West London Build and Recover Plan, discussing plans for growth sectors, and for aviation communities.
Skills were an area of focus, and recognising that the employment landscape has been changed by the pandemic, he said “we need employment training to help people move to other areas of work. We’ve got to be more nimble in reskilling.”
He highlighted west London’s tradition of entrepreneurial activity: “This is important. West London is a hotspot. We aim to increase skills levels in entrepreneurship and develop more incubator and start up space. We have to be more imaginative and more pro-entrepreneur than ever to make this work.”
Town centres had been struggling, but the trend to work from home brings an opportunity. “What makes a great place for business? Amenity – a revitalised town centre, green and clean, with retail and leisure meeting market demands.”
Housing and infrastructure were also a focus of the Plan. Not being able to afford to live somewhere drives people out of the economy, particularly young people. So building genuinely affordable homes is really important. Infrastructure investment will drive this.”
And on a green recovery he had a vision of a future West London. “Belching out pollution from cars, lorries and planes cannot go on. Let’s think about 2050 – a green society, with no pollution or CO2. No poverty, stronger communities, no crime, huge opportunities for innovation and learning. West London at the heart of what’s going on globally, working with organisations like Imperial College turning their ideas into companies.
“The future is as bright as we will make it. In West London it will be bright, because we will make it so.”
The Capital West London Summit took place on 29 September and the virtual event saw a keynote speech from London’s Deputy Mayor for Environment and Energy Shirley Rodrigues and discussion on housing and infrastructure, the West London Alliance’s Build & Recover Plan, a new world, new economy, what next for aviation communities, the future of the high street and the opportunity to grow back greener.