Delivering growth through localism' (link to the related site) organised by Berkley Homes. Other speakers were Alison Nimmo Chief Executive of the Crown Estate, Sir Bob Kerslake (Head of the Home Civil Service), and Emma Jones a founder of 'Start up Britain'. I was put on the agenda immediately before Sir Bob and imediately after everyone sat down so my speech - reproduced below - was focused on welcoming people to the event. However it's probably worth a quick scan if you are interested in Reading's approach to planning and development. It wasn't a political speech, but I think it's fair to say that you can read between the lines for my views about the government's policy on growth (and whether partnership working is actually a new idea!) from this.
I’m delighted to welcome you to Reading, a regional growth hub recently named one of the top 5 European Cities – even though we don’t have official city status quite yet.
I want to share with you a little of what Reading’s experience is and the difference working in partnership has made to us.
Reading Council is proud of our record in delivering growth by working in partnership - whether major new infrastructure, community facilities, housing, business parks or our popular regional shopping centre. We’ve also delivered 720 new homes a year for the last decade – quite an achievement in a tightly constrained urban borough.
A key ingredient for sustainable growth has been working in partnership.
I hope those of you who are visitors to Reading will have an opportunity to see some of the urban renaissance of our town centre the sort of result that we get by working in partnership: the momentum continues with the multi-million pound upgrade of Reading Station, where we are working with the Department of Transport, Network Rail and others to maximise the significant benefits to our residents. We are also seeing renewed interest, despite the economic climate, in regeneration of the surrounding area.
Despite Reading’s strengths, we face some real challenges with prosperity close to pockets of deprivation.
When we talk about partnerships we don’t just mean with business and government. To be successful in delivering growth that benefits all we need a genuine partnership with residents and communities.
A flagship program that shows how this really works is our Dee Park regeneration project - a 33 hectare 1960’s housing estate with many environmental problems commonly associated with this type of “Radburn” style estate.
The final scheme will have 763 new energy-efficient homes, along with new community facilities, and much improved transport links, as well as open space.
The project’s success owes much to the close working relationship with local residents and community. Residents have been key from the very beginning and the local resident’s group, CRAG, remain a very influential stakeholder as the project progresses
Unlike some other renewal schemes, existing residents are being re-housed on site to maintain community stability. The project is also improving local employment skills by providing on-site job opportunities including apprenticeships for young people from the estate.
We are seeing real change in this part of our town and it’s only by working in partnership that we’ve been able to deliver.
And it's sustainable growth that doesn't leave people behind.
There is no doubt in my mind that Reading and other councils have a crucial role to play as community champions. We owe it to our residents to find ways to deliver future growth regardless of the national picture and policy.
Reading’s experience is that, done right, working better together can deliver no matter what the national picture, and create outcomes that all partners can be proud of.
On international women's day while it was great that 3 of the 4 opening speakers were women I would say maybe only 1 in 10 of the attendees overall were women. It was a stark reminder of how far there is still to go even in a country like ours.