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SOUTH EAST DEVELOPMENT AGENCY 'ON TARGET' AFTER FIRST NINE MONTHS

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In its first comprehensive review since becoming fully operational on 1st April last year, the South East England D...
In its first comprehensive review since becoming fully operational on 1st April last year, the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) reports 'significant progress' in all areas of its activities.

Among SEEDA's key achievements were the successful creation of the first Regional Economic Strategy for the South East of England. This involved consulting with over 20,000 individuals, businesses and organisations throughout the region. A clear plan of action has been developed to be taken forward by all partners in the South East.

During 1999, SEEDA announced a£3.8m programme - the Skills Development Fund - to raise the South East's skills base by providing grants of between£100,000 and£500,000 to innovative training projects all round the region.

New benchmarks were also set in attracting new businesses, especially foreign-owned companies, to invest or locate in the region. In all, the agency handled some 248 new inward investment enquiries and secured 23 successes in just nine months, protecting or creating over 3,000 jobs. The level of enquiries handled by SEEDA over that period exceeded those undertaken over the previous 12 months.

The South East's significance as Northern Europe's leading location for IT continues to grow with the decision by Intel to locate in the region, creating 250 new jobs and a 10,000 'server farm', the first in Europe. Other successes reported include global software house, Polaris, which decided to establish its new UK and European sales and marketing office in Reading. Charles Schwab is establishing an internet broking operation at Milton Keynes, creating 450 new jobs, Providian National Bank will be basing its European operations in Crawley, bringing 400 jobs to the area, and Pfizer will be creating a new European Headquarters at Reigate.

The agency acquired a number of key 'brownfield' sites for redevelopment which included Biggins Wood, close to the Channel Tunnel in Folkestone, soon to become a major new business park, and the long-derelict Ropetackle site in Shoreham. During the year SEEDA launched its visionary plan for the future of Shoreham which will see the harbour transformed into an ultra-modern port, commercial and residential complex covering 245,000 sq m, and creating 4,000 new jobs in the area.

Community-based regeneration projects around the region were given funding by SEEDA totalling£70m. Awards under the Single Regeneration Budget ranged from£50,000 to help the local community in Eastbourne tackle a growing drugs problem to providing a£25m boost to the Heart of Portsmouth regeneration project. Other areas targeted by SEEDA for regeneration funding in 1999 included East Kent, Hastings, Brighton & Hove, Havant, the Isle of Wight, Southampton and Slough.

SEEDA also launched the Master Plan for its 300-acre Chatham Maritime development scheme - the largest urban regeneration project outside London and a leading example of 'Best Practice in Urban Renewal'. Meanwhile, residents moved into the first 250 homes at Chatham Maritime and construction began on 500 new homes. The government also cleared the way for a£125m retail and leisure development on the site including a factory outlet shopping centre.

Plans for a regionwide network of 25- 30 Enterprise Hubs were announced to promote high-growth business start-ups, and Regional Enterprise Funds to 'close the equity gap' by making commercially viable investments in small and medium-sized businesses.

The first five SEEDA Business Sector Groups - on Pharmaceuticals & Bioscience, Marine Industries, Creative Industries, Aerospace & Defence, and Tourism - were up and running by the year end, each headed by a notable 'Captain of Industry'. These groups will play a key role in identifying for the first time the key infrastructure, skills and competitive needs of the region. Ideas for establishing 'regional clusters' of media/communications and environmental businesses in the South East - two of the fastest growing sectors in the region - were explored at conferences which attracted the key business leaders from these industries.

Commenting on SEEDA's review of activities, chief executive of SEEDA, Anthony Dunnett, said: 'In our first nine months we made considerable progress in taking forward our plans for sustainable economic development throughout the South East.

'Based on extensive consultation with individuals and with private and public sector organisations throughout the region, we also produced the South East's Regional Economic Strategy, setting out our vision for the future and the priorities for investment. This Strategy has just been given the go ahead by the government, and will form the basis of many of SEEDA's actions in the year ahead.'

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