The national and international economic outlook remains troubled, with UK growth of +/- 0.2% and predictions of recession in the Eurozone. However, there are always some regions doing well even in a downturn and Worthing is one of those.
Firstly, I would like to describe how the public sector is investing in Worthing.
Building work on the replacement for our swimming pool, the Aquarena, has already begun. Soon residents will be able to see the new leisure centre rising above the site hoardings. The centre will boast a competition pool, a separate diving pool and indoor and outdoor leisure waters. There will also be a 140 station gym. The investment by the Council in this development will be £18M. Also in sports development we will soon welcome the opening of a £1.4M football centre in Palatine Park. This has been supported by the football foundation, and will be the new home for Worthing Town Youth Football Club.
Worthing Borough Council not the only Public Authority currently investing and growing in Worthing. In February, Western Sussex Hospitals formally opened their £18M expansion to the hospital. Further, in education, Northbrook College opened their Phase 1 new building at the Broadwater campus on February 10th. The week earlier, they began the public consultation on Phase 2 which will see the total replacement of the infamous huts on the site. (Additionally WSCC have, in the last 12 months, opened a new 14-16 unit on the site) This redevelopment will also have implications for the West Durrington Campus, which will see the building of a new 80 bed EMI nursing home, to be run by Guild Care, and also new VW dealership and workshop for Caffyns. The Broadwater campus investment is £15M
Also in the education sector, the 6th Form College hope to sell the Bolsover Road site and move to the Warren which is another £18M project.
In total, the current and future planned public investment in infrastructure in Worthing is £70.4M.
Turning to the private sector, the Eardley site is now virtually complete and almost fully sold, further regenerating the eastern seafront “Active Beach Zone” area. The new Splash Point, delivered by the Regeneration Team in March 2011, has been shortlisted for a national award by the Civic Trust. Work has begun to redevelop the Beach Hotel in a project which will deliver not only another high quality apartment building but also Worthing’s first new purpose built hotel for decades.
At Teville Gate, it is being reported that tenants are being issued with notices to quit, which gives me reason for optimism that the £150M development, including the multi screen cinema and a second new hotel will start this year.
In the Local Data Company’s last report of retail vacancies, the national rate is 14%, and Worthing’s rate is 10%.
Tourism is an important business for Worthing, and likely to become more so, with the “staycation” effect and as the new South Downs National Park becomes established. While other Councils are cutting support to the sector, we are expanding ours, with the opening of the new TIC at the Dome. We have been awarded E166,000 from the Seaconomics project to work with partners in the Pas de Calais, in Belgium, and in the Netherlands to develop our offer internationally. Worthing already welcomes 2.2M visitors each year, who spend £119M. The two new hotels are coming along at the right time.
Unemployment has been rising nationally, but the picture is Worthing is encouraging. In the last quarter of 2011, the rate fell from 3.1% to 2.9% (figures from the Office for National Statistics, 18-64 yrs).
And there is further independent corroboration of Worthing’s good performance. Centre for Cities in their Cities Outlook 2012 report compared the economic performance of the 64 large Primary Urban Areas, which included Worthing.
They looked at the number of people in each city with no qualifications, and Worthing ranked 2nd of 64, beaten only by Cambridge. They looked at the employment rate and again Worthing ranked 2nd of 64, beaten only by Crawley so good news there for West Sussex. In growing private sector jobs, we ranked 4th, creating 600 jobs in the year of study. In comparing equalities in the town, we ranked 4th of 64 and we came in 3rd place for lowest CO2 output per capita.
Nationally, we are in difficult times. Inflation is high, wage growth is low and we are all feeling a squeeze on disposable money. But the evidence shows that Worthing as a town is coping very well, and I believe that we are well placed move forward and create even more jobs when the national economy gets onto an upward curve.
It is time to speak out about what a great place Worthing is to live and to do business. That is what we are doing in Regeneration and Economic Development, and that is what brings inward investment and will secure the economic future.