Rosemary French, Executive Director of Gatwick Diamond Initiative looks ahead to gdb's 70th Birthday in 2023

At the latest gdb AGM, our Keynote Speaker was Rosemary French, Executive Director of the Gatwick Diamond Initiative. As gdb is looking ahead to our 70th  Birthday in 2023, Rosemary outlined her vision for the next ten years of the Gatwick Diamond. 

gdb have been talking about what their organisation might look like at their 70th birthday in 2023. So I thought I might throw in some of my thoughts regarding my forecast for the Gatwick Diamond economic area.

What would Nirvana look like?

  • A second runway at Gatwick?
  • A road and rail network which is modern, efficient and effective?
  • Plenty of skilled employees available and ready for work.
  • Flexible Workspace for start ups and grow on workspace for expanding businesses.
  • A segregated cycle route from Crawley to Horsham - that is my own Nirvana!!

Are these just pipe dreams - defined as unattainable or fanciful hopes or schemes. Well yes and no!

In a five year time frame to 2023, yes these are probably pipe dreams. But a longer time frame, perhaps at GDB's 75th birthday or even 80th in 2033. That is not as far away as you might imagine. Just over 14 years. I remember 2004 as though it was yesterday - 14 years will pass quickly. Unfortunately!

But how do we reach this ideal state of economic ecstasy. Giving up and going the way of Kurt Cobain is not the answer. We absolutely have to work together to get there despite the challenges put in our way.

Let's break down our needs and how we might achieve them

A second runway at Gatwick?

Well, Gatwick will be absolutely bursting, well before 2023. Heathrow's third runway will still not be built. It will be delayed by judicial review after judicial review. It may well be the environmental impact which might be the death of Heathrow expansion. Maybe, just maybe it will be built by 2033. What the owners of Gatwick Airport will do in that time, I can only surmise. It is not a simple solution to say they will just go ahead and build with or without Heathrow expansion. The reason is because there would be no certainty of attracting airlines and indeed they could lose airlines and routes should they have to compete head on with Heathrow. 

But in the meantime, by 2023, Gatwick will probably have over 50m passengers per annum. They already fly to 74 countries. Could that be nearer 80/90 countries by then? Their cargo movements will have grown exponentially. Business travel has readily jumped on the great value and quality offered by the global routes of airlines like Norwegian, and will have grown further. And Brexit will encourage further business exploration of more countries beyond the EU. With or without a second runway, Gatwick will be a key player in the economic success of this area.

What about….

A road and railway network which is modern, efficient and effective?

I suppose a lot will depend on which political party is in control with this one. Labour says they will nationalise the railways. Sure they can do that, but the disruption will be even greater than what we are already experiencing. In reality it is the absolute lack of investment in our infrastructure which has got us here. That lack of investment in rail discourages commuters from using it and congests our roads. I look to Scotland's new parliament which has managed to build a new bridge across the Forth and a new rail line down to the Borders at Melrose both of which enables Edinburgh to access a whole swathe of new employees now within an hour. I look to the Gatwick Diamond and we have a widened A23 at Handcross finished in 2016 which was in our original Gatwick Diamond plan way back in 2006. We are starting to implement a Smart Motorway on the M23, to be finished in 2020.  But nothing on the A27 which could bring employees up from the coast.

The Coast to Capital LEP is leading a campaign to improve the Windmill Rail Junction up at Croydon which creates a bottleneck as trains enter London. But this could take 10 years alone to implement. Basically, I do not forecast a much improved road and rail network. I feel that we should take this opportunity to use the 4m or so sq ft of new business park space that is coming our way in Horsham, Horley and Hickstead, and the revitalisation of our town centres to encourage employees to work local and live local. We have to take folk off the roads and rail. Or else they will vote with their feet and decamp to that lovely railway in Scotland!

Which takes me to my next bit of paradise. At least partly….

A Gatwick Diamond with plenty of skilled employees available and ready for work.

There is a dreadful statistic in Crawley and it is not much better elsewhere in the Gatwick Diamond. There is one person for every five jobs. My goodness would the north love to be in that position. 

Actually I take that back, the North would not like it at all. It is holding back our productivity, our growth, our economy.  We need to promote local jobs to those thousands of new home owners and tenants who will occupy the massive house building programme underway. And we need to retain our clever young people with apprenticeships and degree apprenticeships. We have another dreadful statistic of losing young people to university and they do not come back. We have to grow our own. Those new home owners are going to have families who should be our workforce for the future.  Our economy cannot afford to let them live a commuter life. They do have a choice of a higher quality of life and we have to show them it.

The Gatwick Diamond has a dynamic start up economy and its survival rates are high. But our next desire in 2023 is for……

Flexible Workspace for start ups and Grow on workspace for expanding businesses.

The Gatwick Diamond is being left behind compared to London. We all work differently to when we started work. I am talking to the over 40's here! Dolly Parton's 9 to 5 in the office has gone out of the window, dressed in suits has gone out of the window a long time ago.  Employers need to recognise that with a tight recruitment market that they will have to offer the flexible hours that employees want, nay demand. We have all opened up our laptops or Ipad Pro's to work in Starbucks, in Costa or just walk into Bill's in Horsham and join the bunch of techie's working there. They still have offices but they prefer this more casual team environment. I suppose it is the successor to the water cooler.

It was in 1995 that the management guru Tom Peters said that 'We were not destined to be Empty Raincoats, nameless numbers on a pay roll, statistics in some government report. If this is to be its price, economic growth is an empty promise. There must be more to life than to be a cog in someone else's great machine, hurtling god knows where'. 

While I remained a cog for far too long, I really do think that Millennials have worked this out. They intend to work differently, flexibly, do their work outside of the office and unlikely to be with one employer for long.

If I use Maslow's Triangle, (I knew that sociology and psychology degree would come in useful!)! If I use Maslow's triangle, those employers that offer those basic needs will be the employers that attract the staff. 

  • They will offer branded café's instead of canteens (like Canon),
  • they will offer cushions on the stairs to talk ideas (like Elekta),
  • they will allow you to bring in your dog (like Nestle),
  • they will offer football tables (I saw my first one in the mid 90's visiting a trendy customer when I worked in New York. I was quite shocked. And I was also incorrectly dressed in a suit!),
  • they will not give you your own desk but enable you to move around the building and choose a desk when and where it suits you (like Virgin).
  • And they will want to be close to a busy area outside where folk can mix at any time of the day or evening like Canary Wharf or best of all Chiswick Park. When they build out the new Horley Business Park this is the vision of the developer 5 to 10 years out.

And we need grow on space for expanding businesses and for inward investing businesses - 1000, 3000, 5,000 sq ft not just 20,000 sq ft floor plans. There is a chronic shortage currently. Nirvana would include such space in those new business parks and our town centres.

Finally, tongue in cheek but that nirvana include……

A segregated cycle route from Crawley to Horsham?

Actually this is a bigger opportunity than it would first appear. If we are going to encourage a live local, work local economy we have to provide safe cycle routes for the healthy generation that has developed. That generation which will not eat sugary drinks, nor use one time use plastic and they may not even drive let alone own a car.  Germany has realised this, just look at Berlin and any major town there. Holland and even France is connecting towns and villages using old rail routes and running them through vineyards and agricultural land. I forecast that electric cycles are going to be a preferred mode of travel for commuters in the next 10 years. Healthy, cheap, non-polluting and travelling longer distances is much easier and less sweaty. That is what our employees will want in 2033 when GDB invites me to their 80th birthday party. And hey, I will certainly be using an electric bike to get there and probably still be working. I have not even touched upon the older generation of workers that we will need to attract!

So, that is enough from me. Thank you for giving me some time to share my vision of a future Gatwick Diamond today.



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