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‘Do we need almost 5m sq. ft of new business park employment space?’ was one of the questions asked at the 2019 Gatwick Diamond Economic Summit held at the Arora Hotel, Crawley in June. 

At the event chaired by Victoria Kerton, Regional Director at NatWest, 165 business leaders and influencers gathered to focus on the opportunity presented by new commercial employment land identified within council Local Plans. After many years of limited new commercial space to accommodate enquires from new investors and from the growing businesses already here wanting to expand, it was agreed that the proposed new business parks will stimulate renewed interest in our vibrant and dynamic economy, but that we need more! 

In his presentation, Adam Godfrey, Senior Partner at SHW, said, “Manor Royal is a great example of how business parks attract and retain growing companies providing skilled employment. There are several proposals in local plans for further business parks in Horley, Billingshurst, Horsham and Burgess Hill but this is not enough. The current allocation is simply not enough to satisfy the demand for warehouse, light industrial and office space. Permitted Development Rights has considerably reduced office space in town centre locations while new housing means more people seeking skilled jobs locally.” 

Andrew Osborne, Partner at Vail Williams said, “We are seeing a ‘flight to quality’ by occupiers with a strong and vibrant industrial/warehouse market across the Diamond but there is a shortage of land with either a suitable planning allocation or planning consent. There is a clear need for some large strategic development sites to enable the region to compete with the rest of the South East and nationally”  

John Atkins, MD of Atkins Property and speaking on behalf of the Wilky Group presented the results of a recent Savills report. He said; “There is strong market evidence to develop a significant employment opportunity adjacent to Gatwick Airport. A new mixed use proposition creating up to 23,000 jobs will attract global occupiers. The Wilky Group looks forward to working  in collaboration with partners to develop the concept of a high quality environment offering 21st century job opportunities, driving regional competitiveness and supporting infrastructure delivery.”

In the keynote video speech from the CEO of Gatwick, Stewart Wingate explained how Vinci, the new owners of the airport with a 50.01% share, would continue to invest in infrastructure and engage with businesses and stakeholders ensuring that its passenger growth would continue to benefit the local economy. Mark Lever, Head of Corporate Affairs, then hosted a lively Q&A session.

Lee Harris, Executive Director Economy, Infrastructure & Environment at West Sussex County Council presented plans for the new Horsham Enterprise Park (also known as the Novartis Enterprise Park) which will provide 250,000 sq. ft of additional commercial space next to the rail station and close to the town centre.

The session after coffee focussed on how employees would reach the new business parks and where would they come from in a region known for its high level of employment.

Paul Harwood, Director Route Business Development & Sponsorship at Network Rail talked about the improved schedule and ease of access for commuters and the business sector. The audience were encouraged to hear that the long awaited redevelopment of the Gatwick Diamond’s key rail station at the airport was about to start following successful planning approval.

Vincent Madden, Director of Hotel Operations of the Arora Group presented plans for the long overdue redevelopment of the infamous Overline House at Crawley station.   

John Baker, Founder and Chairman of the Commercial Parks Group talked about the importance of creating “convivial spaces” that were more social, collaborative and supportive of employee wellbeing.

Rosemary French OBE, Executive Director of the Gatwick Diamond Initiative asked whether the new employment land was actually ‘fit for purpose’? She said ‘’Have we really thought about where those 29,000 employees for the new business parks are going to come from, when already our employers cannot get enough staff with the right skills? Our councils and the C2C LEP must promote, encourage and facilitate a ‘live local, work local’ policy to reduce the outflow of commuters every day.’’

She said that while the appropriate infrastructure is inadequate, the answer is not to make it easier to remove working residents by road and rail. Moving more commuters up to London will not help staff those new business parks and the Gatwick Diamond economic region must not be characterised as a ‘transport corridor’.

She reminded the audience of the key role that Further Education Colleges play in providing the STEM skills as well as the urgent need for an Exhibition and Conference Centre. 

Her call to action was that, “we must collaborate and not compete across council boundaries to get the best business park. We must put planners together to work towards a whole solution which fits future demand. A solution which will deliver tenants for all types of builds and which will drive the Gatwick Diamond economy forward.”

Throughout the event, Victoria Kerton ably managed audience participation using the innovative Sli.do app which enabled the audience to submit and even rate questions before, during and after the presentations. The Q&A panel sessions were interactive and lively, and Victoria was amused by the response to her initial test Sli.do question which asked whether she was Australian or from New Zealand - which the vast majority of the audience got wrong.

The event was kindly sponsored by the Gatwick Diamond Initiative, London Gatwick Airport, Glenbeigh Developments, Horley Business Park, Mayfields Market Towns, the Wilky Group, Tungsten Properties, Vail Williams and NatWest. The event was organised by publishing and events company 3Fox International, in partnership with the Gatwick Diamond Initiative. 

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