DORSET and the ‘Central South’ need to market themselves to people from London and beyond who want to work from home in a nicer part of the world.

That was the call at an event which heard the local population was not being “replenished” with enough people of working age.

Robin Shepherd, partner with Southampton-based planning and design service Barton Willmore, was speaking at the Regeneration South conference, which was held virtually.

The conference, organised by social enterprise Business South, looks at how the Central South area, stretching from Dorset to parts of Surrey, can better promote itself.

Mr Shepherd said parts of Hampshire and Dorset had a population far older than elsewhere in the UK – with Bournemouth’s average age at 42.8, compared with 33.9 in Slough.

“Places with an ageing population and a relatively low birth rate are not being replenished with people who are contributing to the economy,” he said.

He added: “The opportunity comes because of the Central South’s location, its unique set of assets and its proximity to London, where there is no shortage of talented, young, working people who are looking for somewhere less expensive and more pleasant to live.”

He said the move out of London pre-dated the pandemic, with 340,500 leaving the capital in the 12 months to June 2018 and 336,000 the year before that.

“The pandemic is likely to increase that number as people’s priorities change in favour of work/life balance and quality of life and weigh up the benefits of access to green space, a coastline, a property with a garden, and cleaner air,” he said.

“And it’s not just London – the cost of living elsewhere could cause many to move to less expensive areas with a better quality of life.”

He said some decision makers in the region “have seen development and growth as a problem”, whereas cities such as Bristol and Manchester had thrived on people moving in.

He added: “There is a real danger that without a change of attitude, the Central South, resting on its laurels, will miss the opportunity to compete. It’s not just about thinking of a change – it’s about catching up because other areas have stolen a march on us.”

He rejected the idea that the region’s infrastructure could not cope with the influx, saying that “if we plan well and creatively, our infrastructure gives us significant opportunities”.

He added: “We could do nothing – try pulling up the drawbridge around the Central South castle and assume that people won’t move in.

“But in trying to keep up, we would end up with the economically active people here having to work twice as hard to contribute to growth and avoid being left behind.”

He urged people to see the situation as a “golden opportunity”.

“We could wake up and create a vision of planned coordinated growth and then market the Central South on the world stage to start telling Londoners, the wider UK and an international audience about everything our region has to offer – using new economically active people to drive growth and continued competitive advantage,” he added.