There are 51,000 jobs in rural west Cheshire, more than in Chester or Ellesmere Port or the Weaver Towns of Northwich and Winsford, according to research for the new rural regeneration strategy for Cheshire West & Chester Council.
The findings were part of a presentation by Rob Hindle, specialist rural economy consultant, given at a breakfast event hosted by Place North West at the Ice Cream Farm in Bolesworth. More than 70 people attended the rural economy seminar sponsored by Pochin, Places Matter, DTM Legal and Marketing Projects.
Hindle said the 51,000 jobs in the rural areas of Cheshire West – outside Chester, Ellesmere Port, Northwich and Winsford – compares to Chester's 47,000, Ellesmere Port's 26,000 and 25,000 in the Weaver Towns.
The sectoral composition of rural employment mirrors the wider Cheshire West economy. The main sectors are public administration, banking and financial services and retail and hospitality. About one third of these jobs and many of those in the higher value sectors are clustered around Chester, demonstrating the importance to the city of the 'green zone' which encircles it.
Economic activity is widely dispersed across the rural area – including the Green Belt – with clusters of activity in many of the smaller villages, not just in the larger villages and market towns. The scale of this activity – in terms of number of employees and volume of outputs – might be smaller than in urban centres but its contribution to local employment and day time economies is hugely important.
Delegates heard that the economic competitiveness of rural Cheshire is under threat. Whilst the population of Cheshire West & Chester is forecast to grow marginally over the next ten years the proportion of the population that are of working age is forecast to fall in the rural area. The proportion of population of school age is also set to fall significantly, whilst the cohort of retirement age will increase by nearly 15%. This demographic shift has profound implications for the local labour force and next generation of businesses.
Added to this the housing market in much of the rural part of the borough suffers from chronic imbalance. There is a poor mix of stock – too few homes for young families or the elderly. Affordability is also a major issue especially in the rural areas to the south of Chester and along the M6 where the cost of homes is over eight times local earnings.
Hindle explained that the rural area has a key role to play in delivering sustainable and managed growth. This will bring opportunities for the development together with investment in critical "enterprise" infrastructure such as fast broadband and transport links.
Cllr Herbert Manley, portfolio holder for prosperity told delegates that the borough is committed to a strategy to deliver growth. It seeks to create over 7,000 new jobs and build nearly 40,000 new homes by 2030.
Also speaking at the event were rural masterplanner Tom Lonsdale, who warned that rural economies will be held back if Green Belt borders and Nimbies continued to rule, even where businesses want to develop new premises to stay local.
The Ice Cream Farm was the perfect venue to showcase the diversity of Cheshire West's rural economy. Run by the enterprising Fell family, it attracts over 300,000 visitors a year as well as providing a base for two ice cream manufacturing businesses.
The farm forms part of the successful Bolesworth Estate. Over the past 20 years the estate has developed a range of workspace in farm buildings, on industrial estates, in purpose built office units and within the village of Tattenhall. The estate currently hosts over 100 businesses which between them support 800 jobs.
David Tanswell, surveyor at Bolesworth for more than 30 years, welcomed delegates to the event and gave an introduction to Bolesworth. He said: "Bolesworth Estate has been run by the Barbour family since 1856, it comprises of 6,000 acres of farmland, 160 let houses and 110 commercial lettings. We have no vacancies on the residential side, in fact an informal waiting list of about 30 people and we are generally over 95% full in our commercial list, often with potential tenants waiting for us to deliver what they want."
- The next in the series of breakfast seminars examining development around Cheshire West & Chester takes places on 2 December at Northwich Memorial Hall. To register email firstname.lastname@example.org