An ambitious economic blueprint to make Swindon and Wiltshire one of the most innovative areas in the country has been submitted to the Government by the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP).
The LEP’s Strategic Economic Plan urges ministers to invest public money in Swindon and Wiltshire to secure growth as the area grapples with key issues such as further population growth in Swindon, major cuts to the Army and the changing face of its market towns.
Called Aligning Local Innovation with Government Ambition, the plan sets out what the LEP has called “a bold vision and transformational economic growth programme” for the area.
It says that by 2026, Swindon and Wiltshire wants to be recognised as a UK leader of innovation with a digital infrastructure that is second to none. It will also be the heart of the British Army and a thriving network of higher education centres.
This will be achieved by focusing on four areas, each of which present significant opportunities for economic growth: innovation, military, town centres and unlocking urban expansion. In line with the fourth point, it calls for Swindon's 8,000-home Eastern Villages scheme east of the A419 to be fast-tracked.
Innovation has long been a defining feature of Swindon and Wiltshire’s economy, says the LEP. It is driven by the presence of businesses like Dyson, Honda, BMW and Intel, as well as the military. The plan identifies measures that need to be taken in order to maintain and develop this unique infrastructure of innovation.
The Government’s reforms to the British Army, Army 2020, will lead to more than 4,000 more troops moving to the area and the MoD will also be investing more than £1bn in the area over the coming years.
“There is clearly a huge opportunity, and responsibility, for Swindon and Wiltshire to accommodate the growth of the military population and capitalise on the economic opportunities,” said the LEP today.
Investment is also needed in many town centres, the plan says, to make them more attractive places to live, work and visit. The plan identifies places in Swindon and Wiltshire where it thinks additional investment would accelerate economc growth.
The planned Eastern Villages development in Swindon is the single largest urban extension in the country, with 8,000 homes planned by 2026. The LEP’s plan aims to accelerate the delivery of this urban expansion, as well as others across the county.
The plan also identifies three growth zones where there is a combination of high economic activity and capacity for economic growth – Swindon, the A350 corridor and South Wiltshire. These areas provide a geographical focus on which the plan has been built.
The Government has earmarked an annual £2bn fund to finance the strategic economic plans of the country’s 39 LEPs.