Economic Growth Conference is a success!
A new message to promote Slough is being developed and more than 100 guests got the first indications of what it will be at a key conference in the town.
The council and developers came together for the town’s second Economic Growth Conference on Tuesday (March 15) and delegates at the half-day event heard, not only about the scale of regeneration, but how Slough – in one respect at least – is already regarded as a city.
Chief executive of Slough Borough Council, Ruth Bagley revealed ‘a new narrative’ was needed. She said: “We want to make sure Slough continues to be an interesting, buzzy place and make sure we are somewhere that drives creativity, and innovation.”
Along with other speakers, Mrs Bagley referred to ‘the look’ she gets when she mentions Slough to those from other areas.
She pointed to three things outsiders say about the town: 1. It’s usually grey 2. John Betjeman’s ‘Come Friendly Bombs’ words 3. The Office.
“These are the three things that most often come up when you mention Slough,” she said. But she pointed to the £450m Heart of Slough scheme, £20m being spent on roads infrastructure, around £1bn being spent on other regeneration projects across the borough including 3,000 homes and nearly a million sq ft of new office space and the major improvements to leisure centres.
And she revealed the Centre for Cities (CfC) recently identified that Slough meets its 63 criteria to be a city. She had several stats both from CfC and elsewhere. GCSE results were the best; productivity, the third highest; the fourth best connected place in Europe; the sixth highest start up rate; the eighth most business friendly place in Europe and the thirteenth lowest business churn rate in the country.
Abroad, she said the problem didn’t exist and she explained the work going on to address the image problem.
“Within the UK Slough has a poor perception. We want to make sure our message, our narrative and all the good things we are able to talk about, come through.”
Businesses were asked what they liked about Slough and the key messages that came back included:
* It’s increasingly well located
* It’s the gateway to the Thames Valley
* It’s a working town
* It attracts talent and has high growth.
She said a new message would soon emerge and added: “We have got to make sure we are all saying the same things – all the same narrative that is strong and true so that we can back it up with facts and figures.”
Earlier keynote speaker, BBC News home editor Mark Easton, explained Slough’s ethnic make up where just a third were white British. He asked those in the room who defined themselves as English and who defined themselves as British before describing the forthcoming referendum as a choice between nationalism and internationalism.
Jyoti Banerjee, partner at Fronesys, explained the work on Smart Cities but said there weren’t yet any in the world. The thinking behind them, he told guests, was about working holistically. He revealed the work going on to make Milton Keynes a Smart City where its 250,000 population is rising to 310,000 over the next 10 years, yet it is running out of water for those already there. A smart solution was needed.
Jonathan Edwards from Morgan Sindall described the joint venture with the council which created Slough Urban Renewal (SUR) and said better quality buildings were the result.
Given Slough’s short history, developments such as The Curve were not constrained by conservation areas, allowing it’s radical appearance. And he revealed the two hotels planned for the site of the library when it moves into The Curve later this year, will be a Moxy and a Residence Inn, both Marriott brands. “The fact that Marriott would come to town to introduce these brands gives us confidence,” he said.
A joint venture with the Canal and River Trust is leading to a residential development alongside the Grand Union Canal.
Philip Mawdsley from AkzoNobel (formerly ICI), explained that his firm was happy to invest in Slough both now and in future.
Delegates then took part in a series of individual workshops before returning to a plea from Mrs Bagley for guests to make their views known about the Western Rail Link to Heathrow.