Over 20 political and business leaders, SME representatives and entrepreneurs came together for a second key roundtable on Letchworth Garden City’s economic future.

The roundtable, organised by Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership with Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, attracted a diverse group of businesses from hoteliers and hairdressers to estate agents and major industries located in the town. Cllr David Williams, leader of Hertfordshire County Council, Cllr Martin Stears-Handscomb, Leader, North Herts District Council, attended together with representatives from Letchworth Business Improvement District (BID) and Hertfordshire Chamber of Commerce. 

The purpose of the roundtable on 21 January at Broadway Gallery was to hear what progress had been made since the last roundtable in March 2019 and what more businesses, civic and political leaders could do together to ‘future-proof’ the world’s first garden city.

Adrian Hawkins, Deputy Chair, Hertfordshire LEP, and founder of Letchworth based Weldability SIF set out the context for the discussion and why it was so important that the business voice was heard.

Adrian said: “The purpose of today’s discussion is to build on the first business roundtable in 2019 and understand how we can ‘future proof’ Letchworth and ensure that it remains viable, vibrant and fit for future generations.”

Delegates heard from Dianne Lee, Director, DLRC Ltd and Mel Blackmore, Managing Director, Blackmores UK Ltd on what it was like to grow highly successful businesses in the town and some of the issues they have faced along the way. These included:

  • Challenges around hiring personnel and commuting pressures on the A1(m)
  • Broadband and IT
  • Poor town centre image making it difficult to encourage staff to re-locate, with lack of parking being the biggest headache for employers

Mel Blackmore, who runs an ISO standards company, based in the iconic Spirella Building, said the magnitude of the climate emergency going mainstream was the number one issue that needed to be addressed and asked what more could be done to support the business community in dealing with climate change.

Graham Fisher, CEO, Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation, said the economic study that had helped inform the first roundtable had identified five key areas of focus:

  • Nurture new generation of entrepreneurs
  • Workspace development for new sector growth
  • Harness housing growth as an economic opportunity
  • Culture and creative offer
  • Letchworth brand
  • Town Centre future

While progress had been made on several fronts, he said there were still key issues to address around lack of entrepreneur support and scale-up owing to lack of sites and the business model feasibility of piloting co-working spaces to inject a sense of vibrancy and dynamism into the town centre.

Graham said: “The Letchworth brand is based on nostalgia. We need to re-purpose this by applying Ebeneezer Howard’s pioneering spirit for the 21st century.”​

Neil Hayes, CEO, Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said the issues facing Letchworth, such as lack of growing on space for successful start-ups and SMEs, were not unique and that there was a risk that garden cities could be left behind as New Towns, such as Stevenage, regenerate their town centres for future flexible living and working.

The first roundtable was informed by economic analysis and also the findings of an e-survey of businesses. The responses were then largely echoed in the roundtable in March 2019 and can be summarised as:

  • The importance of small home-based businesses and the need to recognise and encourage them
  • The links between the town’s economic character and its housing stock, and the potential significance of new development in this context
  • The significance of the town’s cultural/creative offer and the need to ensure that it helps position Letchworth as a great place for people of all ages
  • The need for a more flexible approach to commercial property provision
  • The need to promote Letchworth better and to ‘agree what it wants to say’, including in relation to the Oxford-Cambridge Arc and to London

The full report 'Letchworth’s Economic Future: January 2020', sets out the key themes from the early work and the first workshop together with subsequent progress. The findings of this report will also feed into the Local Industrial Strategy for Hertfordshire which is being finalised by Government and is expected to be published in the spring. Read the Local Industrial Strategy consultation draft and responses.

Since the roundtable, a number of attendees have been in contact to keep the conversation going and ensure that it is widened out to include more stakeholders. We are now following up these lines of engagement. Keep up to date with our progress on Twitter: @HertsLEP @LetchworthGC #HertsforGrowth.

View Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation’s strategic economic plan (published Dec 2018).

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