The Gatwick Diamond is not only one of the South East’s strongest economies, but also one of the UK’s best performing areas. But growth brings with it a number of pressures too, which need to be managed to maintain the success of the area. This report measures the performance of the Gatwick Diamond relative to four comparator areas in the South East, benchmarking its success and setting out some of the policy challenges for the future.
The Gatwick Diamond makes a strong contribution to the UK economy. It performs well above the national average on a range of different economic indicators, such as its levels of productivity, its share of high-skilled jobs, and its track record of attracting foreign investment. It also outperforms most of the comparator areas used in this report. The one consistent exception to this is the Thames Valley area, which includes Reading, and this area is likely to be the Gatwick Diamond’s strongest competitor outside of London when it comes to attracting investment in the future.
As is the case with other economies around the UK, the Gatwick Diamond is made up of many different parts, and these parts play different roles in its economy. In terms of jobs, Crawley makes the largest contribution, led by the large concentrations of jobs in the Manor Royal business district and neighbouring Gatwick Airport. Other areas, such as Horsham, Leatherhead, Reigate, Burgess Hill and Epsom, also make strong contributions.
Within this, the very centres of the Gatwick Diamond’s urban areas don’t appear to be making as large a contribution as they could otherwise be doing. This is a distinction between the area and the comparators of Thames Valley and the South East Midlands (which includes Milton Keynes), where the centres of Reading and Milton Keynes have a large number of high-skilled jobs in their cores. So while the Diamond’s business parks play a big role in the success of the economy, its urban centres have the potential to help increase the number of job opportunities available to residents in the area.
To maintain its strong performance in the future, the challenge for the Gatwick Diamond will be to continue to attract investment in higher-skilled jobs. A key element of this will be to make sure there is a supply of high quality office space in the areas where it is needed. The Diamond’s existing and planned business parks will need to continue to meet the on-going demand of firms to locate there. However there is also a clear requirement to attract the additional investment necessary to improve the central areas of the Gatwick Diamond’s largest urban areas to attract investment from those companies that prefer a central location.
The success of the Gatwick Diamond also brings with it pressures, as is the case in other successful economies. The first of those is the supply of adequate employment land. Permitted Development Rights appear to be exacerbating this by incentivising landlords to convert commercial space into residential. If growth is not to be constrained, it is essential that the area maintains an adequate supply of employment land.
The second is the cost of housing. One of the key strengths of the area is its large number of high-skilled workers, which makes it very attractive to those businesses that want to come and invest. The rising cost of housing may make the area less attractive to workers in the future, with knock on impacts on the ability to attract further business investment and create more high-skilled jobs. This means that continuing to make sure there is a sufficient supply of new homes – while noting the planning constraints that the greenbelt creates – will be important to help manage the affordability challenge that the area faces and make sure that it continues to remain an attractive place for businesses to invest, create jobs and grow the economy.
The third pressure is the need to ensure that there is an adequate supply of workers with the skills required to sustain economic growth. Part of this requirement could be met by seeking to encourage a greater proportion of Gatwick Diamond residents to work closer to home. Currently more work elsewhere than do the residents of any other comparator area. For example, 23% commute to London, whereas only 12% of residents in the Thames Valley do so. Equally, part of the requirement could be met by capitalising on the continuing expansion of Gatwick Airport. The emerging new Gatwick Airport Surface Access Strategy and the results of the Gatwick Growth Board Infrastructure Study will identify many transport and infrastructure improvements that are likely to have a major impact on the area’s economy. Improving connectivity will expand the realistic travel-to-work area, enhancing the availability of necessary skills. It will also likely strengthen the Gatwick Diamond as a place to do business by improving business connections to potential customers and suppliers.