Southport must step up its drive for inward investment

Southport has secured £37.5m in Town Deal funding and, writing for LBN, Southport BID chief executive Rachel Fitzgerald says it creates an opportunity to leverage significant private sector investment

Southport
The Town Deal funding can help transform Southport town centre

 

It is amazing news that Southport has secured £37.5m in the Government’s latest Town Deal funding round.

Putting the bid together was a collaborative effort led by Sefton Council and we at Southport BID are proud to have played a key role. This lot of money but it is only the beginning of what Southport needs to future-proof its economy.

The Southport Town Deal Board is looking to enhance our town’s long standing reputation as a visitor destination with investment into new all-weather attractions designed to bring people in all year round. A plan to create incubator hubs for small businesses is also to be welcomed.

However, we must see this support as just the start of a journey where we radically reimagine Southport and its economy. Tourism and hospitality have been the bedrock of our economy for more than 200 years and it will continue to be a major driver in the coming decades.

One of the most important lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the danger of putting too many eggs in one basket. A place that it over-dependent on one particular business sector will always be vulnerable to major shocks.

Late last year I said that Southport had a “golden opportunity for reinvention”. I said we needed to expand our thinking and create a future vision for Southport that will offer people real opportunities.

The hope is that we spend this money wisely but the fantastic projects that it will support will not be enough on their own to help our town become a dynamic place of commerce and entrepreneurship, a location attractive to outside investors and somewhere people will want to come and live and work.

In the last few months we have seen leaders from sectors such as professional services, creative and digital, property and education speak of the need to reinvigorate the town and offer young people genuine opportunities to forge exciting careers. ‘Youth flight’ is just one of the issues we need to address.

Southport has a reputation as a place where people come to retire. That is no surprise. You only have to take a stroll around the town to appreciate its jaw-dropping beauty. But I also want to see Southport become a place where young professionals and families will want to come and live.

Critical to making Southport a more attractive place to live and work is connectivity – both in terms of access to superfast internet and transport connections. Liverpool City Region Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram has just announced a £30m joint venture that will see a fast digital network built across Merseyside. We have to ensure Southport is internal to that.

Southport
Image of the new conference and events centre planned for Southport
Rachel Fitzgerald
Rachel Fitzgerald, chief executive of Southport BID

 

It is also necessary to highlight the campaign to ensure we don’t lose our direct rail connection to Manchester Piccadilly, which is being proposed as part of a plan to ease rail congestion around Manchester. Many professionals who live in Southport commute to Manchester. I would urge everyone to back the campaign fighting to save this service.

What this Town Deal Fund money can help us do is start leveraging outside investment. Rather than tens of millions of pounds flowing into the town, we need hundreds of millions. Regeneration isn’t a one-time thing. It has to be ongoing. Innovation and reinvention are key to our future prosperity.

Liverpool has achieved some success in selling itself to the world as a global city. It attracted tens of thousands of people from all over the world to its three business festivals in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

One of the plans for Southport is to build a new convention centre on the waterfront. The new events space would replace the Southport Theatre and Convention Centre which closed in 2020 due to the COVID-19 crisis.

What an asset that would be to the town if it could become a venue for hosting major business expos, attract people from elsewhere in the country, and overseas, giving our town the opportunity to showcase its beauty and its potential for investment.

We need to start working on this today. No longer can Southport be an inward looking small town on the Merseyside coast. It can become a powerhouse of commerce and entrepreneurship. It is time to look outwards and sell ourselves to the world.

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