What a remarkable year 2021 has been for Stevenage. And 2022 is shaping up to be even more ground-breaking.

As the independent chairman of the Stevenage Development Board, I stepped into the role a little over 18 months ago in order to harness the increasing potential of our location and to grow a critical mass that would help drive the region’s economy.

My appointment heralded the release of £19m from the Hertfordshire LEP where my interest in Stevenage regeneration and development was greatly harnessed six years previously by plans for the town, drawn up by David Lock Associates - the renowned architects responsible for Milton Keynes - alongside the adventurous Stevenage Borough Council and with clear assistance and some direction from the Hertfordshire LEP, where I served as deputy chair.

At the same time as our involvement with a vast array of infrastructural projects, we wanted to bring our local people with us rather than leaving them behind.

Parts of the dated infrastructure needed to change to keep up with the times, but our local people also needed to recognise the very real employment opportunities now available to them locally and understand how their town was growing in such importance to the rest of the world.

Our successful £37.5m Towns Fund award from the Government in March 2021 for innovation and skills we believe achieved just that, through a range of interventions including delivery of an innovation & technology centre (SITEC), provision for innovative commercial space, investment in the town’s key facilities and unlocking further large-scale regeneration being delivered by Stevenage Borough Council.

Our vision was ambitious, our plan clearly deliverable, and the message was simple: investing money in the future of Stevenage is an investment in the future of our country, in the future of our children, and will unleash over £600m of additional private investment to supercharge UK businesses, as we once again unify in a time of great national need and set a new blueprint for innovation at the heart of a 21st century New Town.

I am deeply passionate about Stevenage having been born here in the 1950s in my parents’ council house as life in the UK’s first New Town showed positive signs of development. It provided the safe haven for me, my siblings, and many other families to develop and progress throughout our lives, very similarly to how the town was envisaged; Stevenage as a place, gave back directly to its people.

I now see this second phase of regeneration as an exciting opportunity to help guide the future direction of our town. One of the key aims for the Stevenage Development Board is to ensure that we engage with the public and the business community to make certain that this is a regeneration delivered for and by the people of this town.

The reason why we have undertaken this activity is clear. Stevenage has a resident population in danger of being left behind, distanced from the needs and innovation of the businesses located here.

World-leading businesses in science and technology, can be handicapped by the lack of local labour, facilities, and suitable amenities and most importantly, as ageing infrastructure and existing facilities contrive in projecting a poor external image of our town, holding back the town’s potential as a vibrant destination.

This is not just an investment in buildings and infrastructure, but an investment in the people, to improve their lives and to boost their skills to enable them to engage with local employers and their valuable local employment.

Decisions and investments made nine years ago by the Hertfordshire LEP encouraged the establishment of the Stevenage Bio-Science Catalyst and the Cell and Gene Catapult organisations alongside GSK in Gunnels Wood Road.

Today Stevenage can proudly boast the largest Life Science cluster outside of the USA and Life Science companies that want to establish facilities in the UK are requesting sites in either Cambridge, Oxford, or Stevenage. What started as multi-million-pound organisations are today valued in excess of 1.6 billion delivering lifesaving therapies to save mankind.

The businesses and sectors located in Stevenage are competing on a global level, and their success is intrinsically linked to our national economy - our residents simply cannot and will not be left behind.

Projects which have been submitted to Government by the Stevenage Development Board, working in close partnership with the excellent and hardworking council regeneration team and local government representatives, relate to a few key areas including connectivity, heritage, arts and culture, leisure, regeneration and land use and the all-important skills and enterprise.

Today Stevenage is the second-best town in the UK outside of London for start-up businesses and this position can truly develop at pace with some of the facilities coming soon to our town.

The successful bid aims to boost the success of businesses in Stevenage which have a national and international base. Heritage of the first New Town was also a key focus, and it will now offer the chance to reflect on and reinterpret this for future generations.

Our projects include the Station Gateway, the Stevenage Innovation & Technology centre (SITECH), a Heritage/cultural centre, and Town Enterprise and Innovation Centre.

The completion this year of the Co-Space working environment in Town Square and the rapid agreement and starting of work on the Autolus project in Marshgate is testimony to the intent that we have, to change the face of the town, and quickly.

This regeneration is all about looking forward to a new Stevenage a “STEMCity”, where STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is one of the vital areas where we are passionate to see a real legacy.

There is proven and growing demand for skilled technical workers for jobs within STEM industries. The Stevenage Innovation & Technology Centre (SITECH) will bridge the skills gap, train the workforce of the future, and stimulate job creation by providing specialisms in STEM sectors – all of which are critical to the Stevenage area and the wider Hertfordshire and UK economy.

We need to do more to encourage people to develop skills in areas like engineering, life science, biotechnology, telehealth and telecare, and digital and computing innovation and advanced construction.

Along with good connectivity to the existing North Hertfordshire College Campus, the SITECH centre will also link with other education providers and local employers. It is hoped that a site might be found within the Town centre and close to the rail station ensuring its location encourages attendance from across North Herts.

My thanks to all our local politicians regardless of their political divide for their foresight and support with our plans for Stevenage and to our government for their commitment and investment in our town, my fellow board members for devoting their time voluntarily, and last but by no means least, the exemplary regeneration team led by Chris Barnes for their vision and continuing support.

So, the regeneration already undertaken and the work in the pipeline clearly shows that 2021 has been a year of great achievement, but that 2022 will see even more landmarks achieved.

It's fitting that as Stevenage celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is not a time to look back at the past, but to look forward to a bright future, one which every person in the town can share in and benefit from as we work towards making Stevenage Even Better.