Inspiration from an Active Chamber of Commerce
I am concerned that recently I have started to sound a bit like the Victor Meldrew of the Regeneration World.
However, a visit to Portishead in May has helped restore my faith in the power of Regeneration and the role that some Chambers of Commerce can play in helping to build their local economies.
Portishead has a vibrant Chamber of Commerce with over 120 members representing the retail and business to business sectors from sole traders to large multi-nationals. The Chamber works to support business in Portishead and the wider community, encourage new companies to relocate to the Town and acts as the focal point and voice of local business. http://www.portisheadchamber.co.uk/
Recently the Chamber in conjunction with local event Management Company “In Any Event UK” hosted “Outlook Portishead” a new initiative aimed at reviewing the redevelopment of Portishead, the progress the town is making and where it is heading.
The event caught my attention as I was aware that Portishead on the periphery of the City of Bristol is one of the fastest growing towns in the UK – largely due to the redevelopment of Port Marine and a house building programme which will see the town’s 22,000 strong population rise by a further 8,000 or so over the next few years.
I was particularly keen to see how Portishead had embraced the Bristol City Region concept as a comparator to current discussion about Cardiff and also how a town a similar distance from Cardiff as say Merthyr Tydfil seemed to be enjoying sustained growth and prosperity.
On arrival in Portishead prior to the start of the seminar and exhibition I had a chance to walk around both the old high street shopping area and the larger more modern retail box type development (Waitrose etc) which sits at the entrance to the Port Marine regeneration area.
Two things were immediately apparent. Firstly there were very vacant premises in the old High Street shopping area. Secondly how well the Old Town of Portishead and new Port Marine Development had been knitted together with an easy walk between the two.
On entering the Event there was immediate buzz in the room helped by a speed networking event that was already underway for some of the participants who had arrived early.
There were about 15 small exhibition stands in the foyer representing a good mix of private and public exhibitors which helped generate enthusiasm and discussion while circulating with a coffee.
The programme confirmed circa 100 delegates and it was interesting that of the 5 key note speakers only one Karuna Tharmananthar, from North Somerset Council, was drawn from the public sector. This is very different to Wales where usually the majority of platform speakers in similar events are drawn from the ranks of the public or quasi public sector.
For me the headline speaker on the day was Colin Sextone. Colin is currently the Chairman of Charles Cook & Company Solicitors who have offices in Portishead. Colin was obviously a high profile Bristol figure and until recently Chairman and previously Chief Executive of Bristol City Football Club.
Colin spoke eloquently about the development of both Bristol and Portishead. It was clear from his presentation and the subsequent question and answer session that followed that whilst the local business community was committed to the growth of the Town they saw being part of the Bristol City Region as a major opportunity and benefit.
Again listening to this debate I was struck how different the attitude and culture was compared to some of the current debates about the proposed Cardiff City Region which unfortunately seem to be mired by tribalism and parochialism.
To underline this point the leading topic of the day was the proposed Portishead Rail Link which if built will link Portishead and Bristol as part of the Greater Bristol Metro project. www.travelplus.org.uk/media/195003/portishead%20grip%203%20volume%201.pdf
The delegates were unanimous that the building of Portishead Rail Link was the top priority for the Town and to emphasis this point Mr. Karuna Tharmananthar from North Somerset was pressed repeatedly to give a firm commitment and timetable for this investment.
Again I was struck how different to the debate in South Wales where towns already linked to Cardiff by rail are often heard complaining about how jobs are sucked away from their community to the City Centre without perhaps thinking about potential reciprocal or “win win” benefits.
During the course of the event I posed the following question to a number of fellow delegates.
“What in your opinion has made Portishead successful and enabled it to buck the current trend of recession?”
Below is a sample of their replies:
“The regeneration of Portishead Dockyard via the Port Marine development has introduced a lot of new and younger families (many with children) to the Town”.
“There has always been a strong sense of local community in Portishead fostered by a number of good schools and local churches. The sense of local community seems to be being maintained even though the Town is growing rapidly”.
“Being close to Bristol is a bonus as it offers all the attractions of City Life but the ability to live close at hand in a semi rural / coastal community.”
“Office / Factory Rentals are more competitive in Portishead compared to Bristol resulting in a number of relocations to the Town from the City. The building of the Rail Link can only enhance this”.
“There is a can do attitude displayed by the Chamber of Commerce with many members committed to the future of their town”.
I left Portishead feeling buoyant having received excellent value for my £20 seminar fee.
Congratulations to Alex Woodward, President of Portishead Chamber and his members for staging such an enjoyable and vibrant day.