The State of Britain

Space flight a step closer in Cornwall, market failure in Gloucester and the ONS’s first cut at regional GDP unwelcome news in the South West

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The Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government has published its deprivation index which looks at an area’s levels of income, employment, education, health and crime as well as housing services and living environment. Jaywick in Essex, near Clacton-on-Sea, was previously found to be the most deprived in the last two reports in 2010 and 2015 and it has won this unwelcome accolade again. Jaywick is followed by nine areas of the North West as the most deprived in England, the Hartcliffe area of Bristol is the first SW entry ranked at 91st. The Ministry divides England up into 32,844 neighbourhoods averaging about 1,500 residents or 650 households each. In terms of local authorities, 17% of Plymouth was classified as deprived which ranked the city the 50th worst in the UK.

The MHCLG found concentrations of deprivation in a number of coastal towns, many of which are in the South West, and there was new money for the region in the latest tranche of the Coastal Communities Fund, with Poole/Bournemouth and Lydney Harbour winners. The Dorset project will create an environmental innovation hub and will feature eco-accommodation and leisure facilities and improved public lighting. The hub will focus on reducing single-use plastics through a programme of research and public recycling initiatives. The Lydney project will create transport routes into the harbour and develop the area as a recreation and tourism destination.

Also Penzance, St Ives and Torquay were some of the SW towns invited to apply for regeneration funding as part of the £3.6bn Towns Fund which is targeted at 100 English towns. Towns must submit economic growth plans with a focus on improved transport, broadband connectivity, skills and culture. The South West was also awarded £13.7m as part of a £95m pot to revive historic high streets, with Poole again benefiting, along with Redruth, Plymouth and another half dozen or so regional towns.

Spaceport Cornwall – a horizontal launch site at Newquay airport from which satellites will be sent into orbit – should be underpinned with £12m from Cornwall Council, after the funding was approved by the council’s cabinet. The £12m is part of an investment package which also includes £7.85m from the UK Space Agency and £2.5m from Virgin Orbit. The Virgin Orbit jet, a modified Boeing 747 called Cosmic Girl, will carry satellite launchers which are released before accelerating and discharging the satellite into space. The Spaceport could also be used to send fee-paying passengers on sub-orbital flights.

A proposed £140m development at Bristol’s old fire station which includes office space, 231 new rental homes and more than 60 affordable flats has been recommended by planners. Two residential tower blocks (16-storey and 10-storey) and an eight-storey building with office space, form the core of the project.

There is clear market failure in Gloucester, where the 15th Century Fleece Hotel in Westgate Street has been empty since 2002. Gloucester City Council will invest in the hotel with a private developer and redevelop it into a boutique hotel and restaurants. The Fleece first opened in 1497 to house pilgrims visiting the tomb of King Edward II.

Redeveloping three Victorian Spa buildings into a heritage centre near the Roman Baths and revealing previously unseen areas of the Roman complex, such as a Roman laconicum and a possible Roman exercise yard, will attract 100,000 visitors a year according to Bath and North East Somerset council’s heritage team. The project has secured £3.4m from the Heritage Lottery Fund and if approved will open in 2020.

Morrisons is proposing to close its Regent Circus store in Swindon as part of a nationwide performance review which has recommended four UK branches for closure. The store only opened in October 2014 as part of a new leisure and retail complex designed to regenerate the site of a derelict former college building, headcount is 113.

In Somerset, the National Animal Welfare Trust’s Heaven’s Gate Farm, near Langport, faces closure putting 31 jobs at risk. The charity also operates rescue and re-homing centres for domestic pets across Berkshire, Bedfordshire, Cornwall, Essex, and Hertfordshire.

The Stats
For the first time, the ONS has published quarterly GDP estimates for the South West, the eight other English regions and Wales. GDP figures have been available for the UK since the 1940s, for Scotland since 2002 and Northern Ireland since 2013. The latest available figures, which are for the year ended 2018, showed the SW economy declined by 1.1%. This ranked the region bottom of the twelve UK ‘regions.’ The East Midlands topped the table with growth of 3.4%. UK growth over the same period was 1.5%.

The quarter to Dec 2018 showed the education sector grew by 6.4%, while the administrative and support services industries grew by 3.0% and made the largest positive contributions to growth, however, the construction industry fell by 2.8% and financial industries fell by 3.4% and were the largest negative contributors in the region. Overall, the services sector was the only sector-level positive contributor to GDP growth, both the production and construction sectors contracted. More recent estimates (six months later) for the year ended June 2019, published by ESCoE last month, ranked the SW third with growth of 1.9%, which suggests the region has had a better 2019 so far relative to other parts of the UK.

More data from the ONS showed that unemployment in the SW decreased by 10,000 to 68,000 between May and July; the drop of 0.3% took the overall rate to 2.4% which was the best in the UK. The highest rate was 5.0% which was recorded in the North East. The South West also had the highest employment rate at 80.8%. UK employment was estimated at 76.1%.

SW average property prices increased by 1.2% to £258,602, which took annual growth to 0.7%. In comparison, UK prices grew by 0.5% to £232,710 during July, also an annual growth rate of 0.7%.