An Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) report says that strategies for the region should avoid encouraging further economic growth and instead deal with problems caused by prosperity, such as transport congestion, a lack of affordable housing and environmental degradation.
Prepared for the IPPR's commission for sustainable development in the South East, whose members include many of the region's key players, the report suggests that maintaining the growth rate would be an acceptable target rather than further boosting economic development. The South East economy remains the most prosperous in the UK and stands well against the EU's richest regions, it insists.
The report also advises that differences within the region should be tackled as a priority, noting that the South East is "not uniformly prosperous".
Economic disparities are widespread in the region among certain groups, such as the disabled, and in areas with low employment levels, the study argues.
Oxfordshire is the wealthiest sub region in the South East, the report points out, with double the prosperity of Kent Medway, one of the area's worst performers. "We're hoping that this will spark some thinking in the ODPM and other departments," said report author Peter Robinson.
He dismissed two myths: that the South East is suffering a skills shortage and developing the knowledge economy is the way forward. Robinson said that the region is attracting home-grown and international graduates.
He also labelled the knowledge economy an "ill-defined concept".
Responding to the report, South East England Development Agency chief executive Pam Alexander said: "We consider the objectives of boosting the overall rate of growth and of dealing with disparities as complementary rather than conflicting."
An ODPM spokesman added: "It is not growth for growth's sake. It is about continued growth that is moving forward to deal with the region's problems."
Going for Growth can be viewed via www.PlanningResource.co.uk.
- See Editorial, page 13.