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No one left behind: Hertfordshire’s good growth story

Hertfordshire is known for its lush green landscapes, rich history, and idyllic garden towns and villages, but it is also a major engine for UK growth. From a booming multi-million movie industry to a world-leading cell and gene sector centred in the golden triangle, Hertfordshire boasts an economy that is larger than many city regions.  It’s this quality of life and access to a thriving economy that attracts residents from all walks of life to locate here.

The Hertfordshire Growth Board has already set its vision and missions, taking a unified approach with leaders from the county, district, and borough councils, as well as the NHS, Police and business. From new employment opportunities and quality and sustainable homes, to healthy places that are well connected for the digital age with a sustainable transport infrastructure, the Growth Board has ambitious plans and is ready to work closely with the new Government and MPs.

I’ve been Chief Executive of St Albans City and District Council since 2017 and I’ve overseen various projects, including new sports and cultural centres in Harpenden, and a cycling and community hub in St Albans. I’ve also been involved in developing a seven-acre site in the heart of St Albans and the Strategic Local Plan for housing and development.

Naturally my ambitions for St Albans play a major part of my involvement in the Hertfordshire Growth Board where I’ve led on setting up aspects of the Transport mission. I’d like to see public transport better joined up regionally, particularly east to west. That would require a whole county approach and will need input from central Government to make it happen.

Hertfordshire’s growth potential

We have a strong track record of innovation, with leading clusters in space and defence – responsible for a third of the world’s satellites, built in Stevenage – and the county is Europe’s top cell and gene cluster. Yet a short drive down the A1 in Elstree and Borehamwood, and Watford we’re at the centre of the UK’s film production industry that’s set to rival Hollywood.

Our proximity at the centre of the golden triangle between London, Oxford and Cambridge is what gives us the edge, and in Hertfordshire we have the luxury of affordable key development sites for large organisations to set up shop and invest.

But it’s not just about big business because our town centres and high streets are bustling with independent shops and cafes. It’s these local businesses, run by local people that help to keep us fuelled and they’re part of the reason why so many visitors come.

Transforming transport

Our transport infrastructure has always been a hot topic but we’re eager to improve our public transport links as well as build on our existing active travel networks.

One standout example is HertsLynx which acts a bit differently to your traditional bus service. It operates in North Herts, East Herts and Dacorum, and doesn’t follow the usual bus timetable. Instead, passengers can use an app to choose a pick-up and drop-off point. This has been popular with residents and a welcome improvement.

Working with a new Government

A change of administration offers the opportunity to reset our relationship with Government. Our biggest priority is to work collaboratively to showcase what makes Hertfordshire unique, so that our asks to Government come with an offer from us that evidences a return which supports the country at large.

Hertfordshire is an engine of growth with £42bn GVA pa. We contribute more to UK plc than many city regions.

As well as our strong track record of innovation, with leading defence, space, and biosciences’ sectors, we pioneered the first garden cities and new towns, and councils locally are already committed to building thousands of additional new homes and generating new jobs in the next 10 years.

But we are facing barriers to further growth. The new Government could unlock these through a strong devolution deal so we can tailor interventions to the needs of residents and businesses.

We must ensure economic growth is inclusive and sustainable; that we get high quality, sustainable housing growth in the right places; and that we protect our outstanding natural landscapes including our globally significant chalk streams.

To do this, we need more funding and local powers over skills, business support, regeneration, housing and strategic planning, transport, sustainability, energy, and digital infrastructure.

Making an impact

The Growth Board and our partners have come a long way in the last 12-18 months. The Hertfordshire Economic Board has already launched a Hertfordshire Film Office which works with film and TV creatives, and major studios globally to secure suitable shooting locations in the county. This is a service that the industry has welcomed with open arms and makes it easier and faster for studio execs to scout locations and get filming.

Invest Hertfordshire, which is the county’s new inward investment service, promotes development and opportunity sites in the county so that businesses can make easy decisions on where to locate or invest.

We have also secured additional Government funding for Hertfordshire, targeting the roll-out of Full Fibre coverage to around 7,000 premises in hard-to-reach and rural areas of the county.

To strengthen our role as planning authorities, I’ve started work on improving planning resilience in the county so that we can better meet the growth needs of the county.

Hertfordshire is open for investment and is ready to work with Government and other funding partners to secure deals and drive inclusive growth for the benefit of our residents, communities, and businesses.