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With an economy “punching well above its weight”, a track record for delivery and great quality of life, while still offering “opportunities for everybody”, it’s clear to see why Crawley is an investment hotspot.
At the ‘Invest Crawley: Commercial Breakfast Briefing’ on March 20, it was highlighted how 25 per cent of economic output in West Sussex is generated by Crawley despite the borough occupying just 2 per cent of the land. Crawley also has the second-highest job density in the country outside London with world-leading companies based here, such as Virgin Atlantic, Elekta, Varian, Thales, Boeing and many other professional services.
The economy is made up of hi-tech sectors: STEM, creative industries, life sciences, and the transport sectors around Gatwick Airport, the world’s biggest single runway airport, providing 24,000 jobs. Manor Royal industrial area is “a jewel in the crown”, home to 600 businesses and 30,000 jobs. Crawley Town Centre has a thriving retail sector with a mix of big brands, independent shops and a high weekly footfall.
Chief Executive of Crawley Borough Council, Natalie Brahma-Pearl, said: “Crawley is a major economic region within the Gatwick Diamond and the Greater Brighton area. It is recognised that as a borough area, it punches well above its weight. Its close proximity to London as well as Brighton, works in our favour with great transport links, including four stations. We’ve got all the benefits of London but with more competitive rates.”
Further strings to Crawley’s business bow include its broadband connectivity with the borough’s already fast broadband receiving a further £20m direct investment from City Fibre and a share of £19m from the Digital Spine project – a new Business Rates pilot scheme.
“We want to be regarded as the South Korea of the south-east,” Ms Brahma-Pearl said. “We are more advanced than most areas in terms of digital connectivity and that’s what will drive business; how fast you can work.”
She noted that Centre for Cities had found Crawley to be “the most resilient place in England in terms of hard or soft Brexit”.
“So, it’s a really good place to invest,” she continued. “There are more and more cranes in Crawley and there’s a lot of development going on. People haven’t stopped investing and spending their money. Crawley is proactive and pro-growth, open to business and not a borough which rests on its laurels. We’re not taking about a visionary document or a plan, these things are actually happening.”
Some of the construction is arising from the 1,000 new homes being built in Crawley town centre and a new Town Hall development including homes, commercial space and the county’s first District Heat Network. New incubator space has also come forward as well as brand new, state-of-the-art buildings in Manor Royal.
A key scheme in Manor Royal that was showcased at the breakfast is being brought forward by The Commercial Park Group (TCPG) which has secured planning to develop two Grade A office buildings on Gatwick Road; part of its wider plan to deliver a series of business parks across the South East.
John Baker, Chairman of TCPG, chose Crawley as an alternative to London. His reasons included the connectivity, particularly the airport links, and the positive attitude of the Council as “good management is so hard to find”.
He explained: “We believe we’ve got to turn the clock around, people have been working very hard and they are pushed to the limits because they don’t work in great buildings. We want to enable the people of Crawley to work in a better way for themselves, which in turn will have a dramatic effect on staff retention, boosting the attractiveness of the Crawley area to major international companies. Our buildings are very well-designed - they’re glass, well-conceived light-wise and incorporate plenty of green elements including stunning garden terraces. This all contributes to the creation of an ambience that is conducive to employees’ wellbeing, inspiring them to come to work each day”.
“Any investment comes with the quality of life,” Ms Brahma-Pearl said. “You can have the most fabulous industrial and business units, and office blocks but it’s the quality of life that’s important. Is the place clean and well cared for? What’s the first and last impressions you have when you go and visit? We have some of the best leisure facilities in the South East. Crawley has the only 50m pool south of London, it has the Hawth Theatre and Tilgate Park. These are destination places and it’s about how we sell our brand, not just the buildings.”
This quality of life approach includes the rollout of an Employment Skills Programme for people in the town as currently 43,000 people commuting in brings both opportunities and challenges.
Cabinet Member for Planning and Economic Development at Crawley Borough Council, Councillor Peter Smith, said: “We want to reduce congestion and help businesses. We’re trying to encourage more Crawley people to get the skills that businesses in the borough need.”
He explained how Crawley’s regeneration was kick-started by a £14.6m cash injection from Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership which will be match funded by Crawley Borough Council and West Sussex County Council. This also includes £2.5m of Section 106 funding alongside £1m Community Infrastructure Levy funding. A further £28.9 million from investors has also been allocated to unlock additional development.
“Crawley is open for business.” Cllr Smith added. “The political leadership very clearly understands public-private partnerships and is helping people to come and invest in Crawley. There are opportunities for everybody and there are plenty more opportunities to come; we’ve got big ambitions going forward.”
Contact Bonnie Stephensmith on BStephensmith@Wlcreative.org.uk for information on the opportunities.