Ambitious plans to boost economy are revealed at business summit

Matthew Lee on economic business summit
Matthew Lee on economic business summit

A string of ambitious plans to boost the economy by £1.2bn in the next 20 years were revealed on Monday.

South Kesteven District Council organised and hosted the economic business summit on Monday, which saw district council leader Matthew Lee (Con) announce a string of ambitious plans to boost the economy by £1.2bn by 2040, as part of a new strategy called InvestSK.

Coun Lee, who was elected and took the role of leader just six months ago in April and represents the Stamford St Mary’s ward, told the audience of 180 guests that it 
was “time to stop talking about change and start delivering
it”.

He said Monday’s event at Stoke Rochford Hall was “day one of the journey” to add £1.2bn to the economy by 2040 - a 40 per cent increase.

He said the first £400m of this growth would be achieved by investing £40m of council money into projects, which will be underway or completed in just three years by 2020.

But he said it could not be achieved without the support of businesses, saying the public sector didn’t build the economy.

He added: “But that doesn’t mean that we, your district council, should be passive and just wish you good luck. There are lots of things we can do to help you. We can partner, we can offer advice and we can support. And we can also help de-risk worthwhile projects that would otherwise not happen.”

He said he firmly believed the district council now had “the commercial thinking and political will” to deliver on projects that could create revenue in the future.

Coun Lee promised that with the new leadership in team, including new chief executive Aidan Rave, the council now had the “ambition, confidence and drive” to push projects forward.

He also said: “Despite years of talk about austerity, SKDC is in a relatively fortunate financial position, with strong reserves and little borrowing.

“We have the money and I believe it is our responsibility to put it to work for our district and not just have it sitting in the bank.”

Coun Lee said the council would take a “proactive approach” to ensuring there was land for business that was being developed; and said the need for “microbusiness hubs” in some villages would be explored.

Referencing the Stamford 50 celebrations, marking half a century since the town became the first conservation area, Coun Lee said the council would bring forward a new planning policy to protect against “abuses” in Stamford, whilst also ensuring it is vibrant.

Amongst the announcements made was the creation of a new digital hub, which will be built in the Cattle Market in Stamford in a new “iconic building”, in partnership with incubation firm Haatch, which already has a base in Wharf Road. The new digital hub will provide 300 desks. Coun Lee promised that the new building would be one that is “right” for Stamford, working with groups including Stamford Civic Society. Haatch’s chief executive Scott Weavers-Wright was there at the event.

Coun Lee also said a new office facility would be created in Bourne town centre for microbusinesses to use and a new 10,000sqft office facility would also be created in the Deepings.

Coun Lee confirmed talks were at the “final stages” with a tenant who wanted to take 50 per cent of that space in the Deepings.

Coun Lee also committed to a new festival in Bourne in addition to continuing to develop the Stamford Georgian Festival, Deepings Literary Festival and Grantham’s Gravity Fields Festival.

Although plans for the Bourne festival are at a very early stage and ideas are still being floated around, Coun Lee said he envisaged that it would be a motorsport festival building on the town’s rich history.

Other promises included a commitment to revitalise the markets in Bourne, the Deepings and Grantham; and plans for “town centre living” above retail shops.

He also promised new leisure facilities in the Deepings and Stamford and investment in the leisure facilities in Bourne and Grantham.

The council wouldn’t expand further on several of the announcements, saying they were at the “early stages”.

A spokesman said that detailed costs and the means of funding each plan will be reviewed on a project-by-project basis.

The district council’s cabinet has approved the economic strategy for the district and councillors will have further opportunities to debate the plans as they each arise.

The council hopes to grow the team behind InvestSK, which will be based at The Maltings in Grantham, as the project develops.

During the summit the lead for economic development Steve Bowyer explained more about the new inward investment team and Ursula Lidbetter, chairman of the Greater Lincolnshire Learning and Enterprise Partnership and Mark Reeve, chairman of the Greater Cambridge Greater Peterborough Enterprise Partnership, also spoke.

The district council is working with both enterprise partnerships with a view to bringing forward national funding.

Coun Lee said after the summit: “I am delighted by the response we have had to the summit, which has underlined to me what an important role we politicians play in providing confidence and clarity in our ambitions. Everything flows from that.”

l Matthew Lee’s 14-page speech is available to read in full at www.stamfordmercury.co.uk

l More on plans for the digital hub and the festival in Bourne on page 8.