Working together has the WOW factor

by Debbie Ashford Mon 2 March 2020, 4:10 pm

The power of partnerships to create positive change was demonstrated at the second WOW conference held to discuss ways of boosting the economy in west London and the Thames Valley.

Hosted at the University of West London on 26 February, the event brought together politicians, academics, charities, developers, consultants and businesses from Heathrow Airport to single person startups.

Over 170 delegates shared expert analysis and opinion on the region’s progress and future plans. Chaired by Anna Sabine, chief executive of MPC, which works with developers and communities on planning issues focusing on engagement and consultation, the conference moved on since discussions at the 2018 event from the potential of big projects like the Elizabeth Line, HS2 and Heathrow expansion to look at grassroots delivery and the challenges faced.

West London and Thames Valley is home to 120,000 businesses with an economy of £73 billion, Andrew Dakers, from West London Business, told the audience.

Keynote speaker Emma Gilthorpe, executive director for expansion at Heathrow Airport, highlighted the airport’s importance for employment, with 70% of the workforce living within a five-mile radius of the site.

Speaking the day before the outcome of a judicial review into Heathrow expansion, she also outlined plans for building a third runway and its potential for further boosting local and national economies with the chance to double cargo capacity.

She said: “West London and the Thames Valley is a fantastic part of the world to work and do business in. Further investment would lead to supply chain opportunity and bring longevity and opportunity for business.”

Both the panel discussions and case studies highlighted how the spirit of collaboration was evident in creating and maximising investment and growth for the local community and the wider economy.

Engaging with young people early was a common theme in the panel discussion on how to address skills shortages. Berkeley Homes and Sky advocated this early approach, whether through school and university connections, work experience or apprenticeships, and clear career paths with two recent graduates explaining how they have benefited.

Deputy vice chancellor Anthony Woodman said that the University of West London acts as an anchor for creating growth with its understanding of education combined with a practical approach and is open for collaboration.

In the second big panel discussion Councillors Julian Bell, Steve Curran, Ken Rhatigan, and Lucy Owen, executive director at the Heathrow Strategic Planning Group, demonstrated how cross-borough cooperation across London and the Thames Valley can achieve results despite different interests and political views.

Cllr Bell pointed to the success of the West London Alliance, which is "well-established and cohesive" and is working with transport authorities to establish the West London Orbital rail service to link key growth areas in the area.

The value and necessity of joint working were highlighted in large-scale housing redevelopments. Mike Woolliscroft explained how Countryside and L&Q worked with the council and residents to rebuild the 52-acre Acton Gardens estate in Ealing, with the progress endorsed by long-term resident Janet Coker.

Steve Skuse, managing director (new homes) of Catalyst Housing and Marcus Bate from Mount Anvil also underlined the different skill sets that partners bring within positive relationships, as they undertake the regeneration of development Friary Park in Acton. “We can not do development if the authority is not receptive,” Skuse said.

A session exploring the latest thinking on placemaking suggested that more consideration should be given to in-depth engagement with people, long-term management of space, especially public realm, and that there should be a shift in the use of technology and data processing in city planning.

Euan Mills from Connected Places Catapult said that “Google knows more about the neighbourhoods than planning departments” and urged the built environment to look at how it used technology.

Sponsors for this year’s WOW event included Heathrow, Catalyst, Countryside, Kier and the University of West London.

The event was organised and run by regeneration specialist 3Fox International. To learn more about the firm’s work in events head to: www.3foxinternational.com/events

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