Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, hosts Q&A session for OCFI businesses

Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, recently hosted a lunchtime Q&A for the high-tech businesses who work out of our Oxford Centre for Innovation and we were all left wondering, how does she do it? Susan balances her commitments as leader of Oxford City Council and Board Member for Economic Development and Director of OxLEP with her job as Head of Media and Staff Communications for Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. She has lived in Oxford most of her life and has been a city councillor for more than 17 years. Her focus is economic development for Oxford and she is keen to support business and growth locally.

Susan introduced the session by talking about the key reports and strategies for Oxford and the region. Oxfordshire has one of the strongest economies in the UK. In fact, Susan says, “It is one of one of the few regions that is a net contributor to the UK Treasury – contributing £23 billion GVA in real terms in 2017. It is also a rapidly growing area with an average growth of 3.9% year-on-year since 2006.” As part of the Growth Deal, the county has been invited to be one of the first to develop a Local Industrial Strategy to submit to Government in the next few months. As Susan says, “The vision for this industrial strategy is to position the county as one of the top three global innovation ecosystems by 2040 and to be a pioneer for emerging transformative technologies and sectors.” Sounds like good news for all OCFI’s start-up science and tech companies.

The recent Oxfordshire Housing and Growth Deal has secured an initial £215m of investment from central Government over the next 5 years to build the infrastructure and housing needed across the county. “It is only a starting point”, Susan says, “but we hope that if successful it will mean on-going investment in our region.” As everyone knows, Oxford is one of the most expensive cities to live in outside London and there’s a desperate need for affordable housing. The City Council is working with the surrounding district councils as part of the city’s strategy to address this problem. Their policy is to build close to the city to create sustainable communities.

There’s also – as Susan admits – an “unwieldy Local Plan” which you can download from OCC website. The Plan is a series of detailed policy documents that take planning for the city up to 2036. On top of these individual documents, there’s the world’s first plan for Oxford’s ZEZ or Zero Emissions Zone: the forward-thinking proposal sets out a journey to zero transport emissions in the city by 2035. From as early as 2020 onwards, a ZEZ could apply to some vehicles and journey types with restrictions increasing gradually over the subsequent years. “The aim of the ZEZ”, says Susan, “is to tackle Oxford’s toxic air pollution and protect the health of everyone who lives, works and visits the city.”

Having set out the City’s plans for the future, Susan took questions from round the table. Key concerns were obviously Brexit, the development of the Oxford-Cambridge Expressway, housing and transport. There’s no magic answer to any of these questions but rest assured Susan Brown and the City Council is working hard on all of them. Thank you for fitting in a visit to OCFI in your busy schedule!