Letchworth’s economic future on agenda at Herts LEP conference

Leaders have recognised the need to "inject vibrancy" into Letchworth town centre. Picture: Danny Lo

Leaders have recognised the need to "inject vibrancy" into Letchworth town centre. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

Letchworth’s senior political and business leaders have met to discuss how the town can “future-proof” its economic future.

A roundtable conference held at the Broadway Gallery last month - hosted by Hertfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership in partnership with the Heritage Foundation - addressed the challenges of keeping Letchworth "viable, vibrant and fit for future generations."

In attendence were Herts county council leader David Williams, district council leader Martin Stears-Handscomb, delegates from the Letchworth Business Improvement District, and leading entrepreneurial figures in the town.

The conference acknowledged many of the town's economic strengths, but also recognised the need "to evolve in a manner which is consistent with its radical and progressive origins and ethos."

Neil Hayes, CEO of Herts LEP, said that a number of issues facing Letchworth - such as the lack of growing space for start-ups and SMES - "were not unique" to the town.

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Dianne Lee, director of Letchworth-based consultancy Blackmores UK, highlighted challenges such as "poor town centre image," and mounting "commuting pressures on the A1(M)" as barriers to growth.

Graham Fisher, chief executive of the Heritage Foundation, identified several areas of focus, including the need to build-up a new generation of entrepreneurs and adopt more co-working spaces in the town centre.

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"The Letchworth brand is based on nostalgia," Graham said. "We need to repurpose this by applying Ebeneezer Howard's pioneering spirit for the 21st century."

Graham also recognised the need to balance Letchworth's unique heritage without ignoring the pressing need for "nurturing new work spaces" - particularly in view of the high number of empty buildings in the town.

New avenues of economic potential were also explored, incuding harnessing Letchworth's position at the intersection of Hertfordshire's north-south science corridor, and the growth of a new economic sector centred on the creative industries.

The findings from January's conference will feed into Hertfordshire's Local Industrial Strategy which is being finalised by Government, and is expected to be published in the spring.

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