Somerset’s local authorities were preparing their response to the economic crisis caused by Covid-19, in line with longer-term growth plans already in place or in progress. They wanted to identify projects to bring economic development that is consistent with the themes of delivering significant amounts of new affordable housing, reversing business closures and job losses resulting from Covid-19 and promoting economic growth that mitigates the Climate Emergency. HJA were commissioned to formulate an economic recovery and growth plan to amalgamate these projects together, whilst remaining consistent with recent LEP infrastructure projects and recovery plans. As well as impacts of Covid-19, the plan needed to consider underlying opportunities and challenges faced by Somerset.
To understand the challenges created by Covid-19, HJA assessed reductions in economic activity through estimated impacts on GVA and unemployment in Somerset up to 2025, using forecasts published by Oxford Economics. Underlying challenges, such as poor infrastructure, low productivity and wages, labour market pressures, rurality and poor housing affordability were also considered to ensure their centrality to objectives of the plan.
The Somerset Recovery and Growth Plan detailed projects that contributed to different stages of economic recovery, spanning four broad fields; People, Business and Sectors, Infrastructure and Places and Homes. For each field key challenges were set out to inform the set of responses.
Within the field of People, responses were provided to address challenges in the realms of employment, education and skills and economic inclusion. Business and Sectors related challenges were addressed through responses targeting safeguarding and creating jobs in bedrock sectors and supporting growth and productivity in growth sectors.
Resolutions to infrastructure related challenges surrounded reducing carbon emissions through travel and energy efficiency, improving digital connectivity, creating a climate emergency strategy and reducing flood risk to enable growth. Creating attractive places and homes involved finding resolutions such as improving the environment in Somerset’s towns, enabling the private sector to deliver development and ensuring the delivery of housing.
Alongside each response were details of offers that would be made to help ensure the delivery of the response. These often involved actions that could be undertaken by Somerset local authorities. Additionally, an ‘ask’ was detailed to define actions that could be taken by external bodies and organisations to help ensure deliverability of the response.
We separated the delivery of these projects into three types of activity to ensure effective implementation. These were immediate responses to help restart the Somerset economy, short to medium-term projects to support revitalisation and longer-term growth and strategic ambitions which would contribute to long-term structural change towards a green recovery and low carbon economy.
The now approved recovery and growth plan helped established a platform to progress new projects and create a greater ambition for the area.