Key players in the development and construction sector in South West Wales have highlighted the value of collaborating with local authorities on the redevelopment of local sites.
Speaking in an online development and construction members forum run by 4theRegion, a membership alliance working to bring about positive change in Swansea, Neath Port Talbot, Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, key business leaders highlighted the success that comes when there is early-stage engagement from local authorities.
“A great deal can be achieved when there is trust from the public sector, recognition of what regional businesses can offer and greater opportunities for local contractors to be involved in shaping what happens in town and city centres,” said Dawn Lyle, Chair of 4theRegion. “It’s good for the area and for it’s good for these local businesses which might otherwise get overlooked in favour of contractors from outside the area.”
The members want local authorities to rethink how they package up and promote development sites and tenders, breaking them into smaller lots and marketing sites individually so that regional businesses can access the opportunities.
“There is a clear opportunity for local authorities to engage locally, hear what businesses are offering, and explore what local partnerships could be formed to redevelop each site in line with what the community wants,” said Lyle.
“Culture shift comes from council officers,” she added. “Progress comes when specific officers are willing to engage positively with businesses. The political will is there in our region, but we really need council officers to embrace a new way of working.”
There was also praise for some local authorities. Dan MacCallum, a director of Egni Group, a co-op that develops rooftop solar energy in Wales, said that its experience with Swansea and Pembrokeshire council had been very positive.
“As a community-oriented company, Egni is proud of being one of the largest solar panel schemes in the country. We have found Swansea Council and Pembrokeshire Council easy to work with on our renewable energy projects,” he said.
In order to encourage engagement from local authorities, the members said there was a need for greater collaboration within the sector.
“As a sector, we need to be better at broadcasting what local firms are capable of,” said Wyn Prichard, director of construction skills and business strategy at NPTC Group of Colleges. “There may be more confidence that local projects can be delivered locally if we are better at promoting what we can all do – the expertise we have here in the region.”
Phillip Jones, a senior associate with BIC Innovation business consultancy, agreed that working together is key.
“Collectively, we are a lot of SMEs and collaborating gives us strength,” he said. “It’s important to build relationships founded on trust, we can’t always rely on contractual relationships. I have great pride in this collaborative approach, and you can see that these relationships are growing in strength and in what they do.”
The members also identified a need to attract more young people into the industry as it currently faces a skills shortage.
“There is a real appetite for the sector to come together around some of its shared challenges, and our member forums are providing a platform for this,” said Lyle. “These sector-based, member only events help forge valuable connections and promote constructive discussions, giving our members a voice and an opportunity to influence their sectors, and the region, for the better.”
Upcoming events and member forums are listed at: https://www.4theregion.org.uk/our-events/