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Masterplan revealed to attract multi-million pound boost for Dorset
THE future could be bright for the region’s businesses with the launch of a plan to boost jobs and industry.
Business leaders have given a cautious welcome to the council-led plan, which sets out four areas to focus on, including attracting better paid jobs, making town centres more vibrant and improving transport and broadband.
The draft document, Priorities for Economic Growth, has been approved by West Dorset District and Weymouth and Portland Borough Councils, and could be rolled-out next year and beyond.
President of the Weymouth and Portland Chamber of Commerce Mark Blunden said: “This is a positive step. Communication between the council and businesses is clearly crucial and it’s encouraging to see so much focus on industry in this report.
“Tourism is clearly key to this area, but there’s so much more than that. With industry like this, it’s a case of the more there is the more there will be. You need to build up the momentum.
“With regards to empty shops I would say Weymouth town centre is better than most but a plan like this is needed.”
The plan will be discussed by members of the Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), and the four priorities set out could be included in their Dorset Growth Strategy.
This will be used to bid for a share in the Government’s Local Growth Fund, which has set aside £2billion nationally.
But Mr Blunden warned that ‘quicker fixes’ are also needed.
He said: “I do understand that the wider picture takes some time, but this issue with the tourist information centre has dragged on for some time now, and a lot of small businesses simply don’t have the option of waiting for things to improve.”
“Increasing the number of better paid jobs is vital, which is why we are working to attract companies interested in moving here, securing sites for development and supporting existing businesses.”
Ian Munro-Price, Weymouth and Portland Borough Council’s spokesman for economic development, added: “Setting priorities that show how we can improve our economic prosperity is very important.
“Now is the time for us to capitalise on massive infrastructure improvements, like the relief road, and do all we can to attract more businesses and better paid jobs to our borough.”
For details on the draft plan, click here.
Strong document receives welcome
President of Dorchester Chamber of Commerce Alison Moore called for affordable housing to be included in the priorities.
She said: “Without that, we won’t attract people in to work here.
“I would also like to see more done to get the positive message across. This area has a lot going for it, but we don’t want people from outside Dorset to just associate us with rubbish roads and slow broadband.
“But I do welcome the development of this plan.”
Business owner Mickey Jones, of DJ Property, said the plan is a ‘strong document’.
He said: “The economy really is starting to improve at the moment.
“My philosophy is that councils can’t just wave a magic wand and make everything perfect, but they can create an environment where businesses can flourish.
“There will be certain things that can never be done, but it’s got to help.”
'Don't forget smaller businesses'
Chairman of the Hoteliers Association Dave Price urged the councils not to forget smaller businesses when consulting on the plan.
He said: “They are saying they want to support tourism, but then why get rid of popular events such as the Kite Festival?”
- The Dorset LEP has also been allocated 47.3million Euros to boost the county’s economy from 2014 to 2020.
A draft strategy setting out how the group plans to achieve this and how the funds will be invested has been submitted to the UK Government and a final version is expected to be prepared by January next year.
This document, the EU structural and investment funding strategy, identifies 10 areas for investment, including enhancing access to ICT, supporting a move towards a low-carbon economy, promoting employment and investing in education, skills and lifelong learning.
- THE first priority in the plan is to create more and better-paid jobs across the county.
In Weymouth and Portland, workers are paid an average of £329 per week. Wages are slightly higher in West Dorset with employees earning £400 per week, but this is still below the national average of £490.
The councils have set out ways to achieve this aim including developing ‘key employment sites’ at Littlemoor, Vearse Farm in Bridport and Barton Farm in Sherborne.
They also plan to promote the marine and engineering sectors based at Portland Port and Osprey Quay, as well as using the Olympic legacy and World Heritage Coast Status to develop marine leisure and outdoor tourism.
- THE second aim in boosting the economy is to create more vibrant town centres.
This will be done by closer partnerships with Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and other business partnerships, developing town centre master plans, supporting the tourism industry and redeveloping sites such as Weymouth Pavilion.
Phil Gordon, of the Dorchester BID, welcomed the plan. He said: “We need the support of local authorities in this way. Our town centres are the lifeblood of where we live.
“We have had successes in the past where we have proposed ideas and worked with the district council to make them happen.
“If this plan means more of the same thing, hopefully with more financial support, then that’s fantastic.”
- SUPPORT for businesses is another priority.
This includes everything from improving access to apprenticeships to supporting start-up ventures and working closely with the business community.
Council services would also discuss growth plans with key sectors in Dorset including manufacturing, engineering, renewable energies, tourism and marine.
Alison Moore, president of the Dorchester Chamber of Commerce, said a closer working relationship with councils ‘can only be a good thing’.
She said: “It creates fewer barriers for business. “Both Poundbury and Brewery Square have highlighted how powerful it can be to have mixed activities at a site, for instance, leisure, retail and office space.”
- AS a final priority, the plan sets out ways to boost the economy through improving infrastructure.
It promises investment in the Superfast Dorset project to improve internet access, as well as transport improvements.
This includes both the road network, access to sites such as Osprey Quay and faster train services from Bristol and London.
Business owner Mickey Jones, of DJ Property, said: “The thing with the internet is that as you get more you can do more. It accelerates the pace of business, and can save time and money.”
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