THE eastern part of Dorset could join with Hampshire in an effort to put the central south of England “on the world map”.

That was among the messages from an event which heard that the south needed the equivalent of the Northern Powerhouse.

The Regeneration South Conference also considered the idea that the region should become a National Park City, thanks to the presence of the New Forest and South Downs National Parks.

Robin Shepherd, partner at architect and planning firm Barton Willmore, said different parts of the region needed to come together rather than competing.

He believed the reorganisation of local government in Dorset – creating the new Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council – would lead to the becoming more connected with Hampshire.

“I think there’s a feeling that BCP is very much looking eastward toward this area,” he added.

He chaired a session at the Winchester event, discussing the question “What is blocking investment in the south?”

He said: “I think there had been some growing frustration across the board that councils had perhaps not been as unified, that they were in competition with each other and not perhaps seeing the bigger game so much, that the private sector was being failed.

“We took it upon ourselves to do something about it. We’ve brought together the private and public sector and will hopefully start talking about the central south more and celebrating it and stop being so coy, stop being so shy about saying how amazing the place is.”

He said other parts of the UK would love to have the natural and man-made assets of the south, from its national parks to its universities.

“It’s always been the country’s best-kept secret,” he said,

The conference was hosted by Business South, the social enterprise which champions the region’s economy. It provided opportunities for potential investors, developers, agents, businesses and consultants to debate the future of the region. Mr Shepherd said the conference had asked: “How do we put ourselves on the world map?”

He added: “We’re not competing with each other. It’s not Southampton versus Portsmouth, with Bournemouth not being able to decide whether it’s part of the central south or not. This is about us coming together and saying ‘We’re about this and we’re better unified than we are divided’.”

The conference heard from Ben Smith, a trustee at National Park City, about how London had harnessed the potential of its parks.

“What he put out to the central south was: Do we want to be part of this?” said Mr Shepherd.

“We are quite close to London and we’ve got two national parks. In terms of what we can offer people, that’s a very direct link between lifestyle and environmental assets to what London has and doesn’t have.”

He said the central south could have a similar relationship with London to the one the Hamptons have with New York.

“We’ve got the lifestyle, we’ve got the marine and maritime and we’ve got the national parks,” he said.

Other speakers included John Denham, the former Southampton Itchen MP who now chairs the Southern Policy Centre.

Mr Shepherd said Business South would concentrate on working with partners to create a “vision and strategy for growth”.

He said some were becoming “a little resistant to growth” and wanted to make sure economic wellbeing was tied to “good growth”.

The strategy would look at what people wanted the area to look like in 2050, he said.