South Essex 2050
Following the unsuccessful attempt to secure a devolution deal for Essex in 2016, there was nonetheless a growing recognition amongst South Essex Leaders and Chief Executives that greater cross-boundary collaboration on strategic infrastructure planning provided an untapped opportunity to secure long-term, sustainable economic growth in the area.
Before considering any practical steps forward, the authorities needed to determine a collective appetite and scope for such a collaboration. To help them develop this, they chose to engage an associate from the East of England LGA’s Talent Bank who would provide an independent view and ensure that they project maintained a sense of purpose and momentum.
Using the well-established “Solutions Centre” model, the Leaders and Chief Executives were brought together to form a Strategic Solution Group. Working through a series of regular workshops over an intensive three-month period, the group developed an agreed vision for the South Essex area. The intensive nature of the programme also forged strong personal and working relationships across the 7 organisations, creating a sense of shared leadership and a mutual understanding of the issues and opportunities facing the partners both individually and collectively.
In tandem with the Solutions Centre process, a number of other work-streams were put in place to inform and support the thinking of the Solution Group:
- Collation of the existing evidence base linked to the key issue
- Collation of technical advice and information from relevant specialist officer groups, including Planning, Housing, Economic Development and Finance
- Making the link to central government, including the latest policy developments (such as the Industrial Strategy), opportunities, threats and any experience from similar collaborations undertaken elsewhere
- Key stakeholder engagement, including with the LEP and business leaders
The resulting articulation of a long-term ambition for South Essex, known as “SE2050” included seven agreed key industrial opportunity sectors, five strategically important spatial areas and eight industrial and infrastructure priorities. Continuing to work with the East of England LGA’s Associate, the authorities recognised that a completely new way of working was required that would provide the platform for further collaboration and the mechanism for ensuring that good ideas were transformed into practical delivery.
In January 2018, the authorities signed a Memorandum of Understanding which resulted in the creation of ASELA, the Association of South Essex Local Authorities, a non-statutory body with a number of joint aims including:
- Providing place leadership
- Developing a spatial strategy to open up space for housing, business and leisure
- Transforming transport connectivity
ASELA also adopted three shared principles to guide their collaborative activity:
- Tackling problems that we can’t solve individually
- Creating collective scale and impact
- Providing the place leadership to promote and sell the “South Essex” proposition
Building on the establishment of ASELA, the 7 authorities agreed and published a “Statement of Common Ground” (SCG) in June 2018, the first step in a process that will ultimately lead to a Joint Strategic Plan (JSP) for the South Essex area. This stated their long-term ambition to make South Essex “the place to live, the destination to visit and the place for business to thrive”.
The SCG identifies 5 “Strategic Areas of Opportunity” within South Essex, makes ambitious claims to deliver more housing than the objectively assessed need for the area and promises a Strategic Transport Framework which will support the existing statutory Local Transport Plans (for Essex, Southend and Thurrock) and enable delivery of the ambitions set out in the JSP.
ASELA recognises that the work programme and their commitment to it is ongoing. There is work to be done to agree such things as employment land use strategy, unlocking of specific development sites, investment in digital infrastructure and protecting access to the area’s “green” assets. The advantage they have over other similar areas is the presence of a collaborative mechanism through which to agree these things and to work collaboratively for the greater good of the South Essex area.
Authority contact name and details: David Marchant, Chief Executive, Castle Point District Council
DMarchant@castlepoint.gov.uk / 01268 882402