South West Partnership for Environment and Economic Prosperity (SWEEP)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Politics


SWEEP brings together a unique blend of academics, businesses and policymakers to place 'natural capital' - those elements of nature producing value for people - at the heart of regional decision-making and business processes in the South West (SW). Focussing on the Heart of the South West and Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) regions, SWEEP will radically transform the extent to which NERC science drives sustainable economic growth, improves policy, decision-making and resilience, delivers value for money and enhances health and wellbeing.

The UK Government has placed sustainable use of natural capital at the centre of its 25 Year Environment Plan (25YEP). With 800km of spectacular coastline and over a quarter of land within National Parks/Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the SW is rich in natural capital. It is particularly reliant on these natural assets and the ecosystem services deriving from them to power economic growth, attracting more domestic tourists and with higher employment in direct natural capital usage (e.g. agriculture, fisheries) than any other UK region. However, there is also more potential for natural capital-led economic growth; productivity is low, with Gross Value Added 20% below national average and the lowest mean incomes nationally. Heavy reliance on natural capital also brings economic vulnerability and challenges from increasing occurrences of storms, flooding, degradation and pollution that damage that capital and limit economic growth.

SWEEP and its business and policy partners have co-designed a work programme utilising NERC-funded research to develop an integrated, cross-sectoral, 'whole system' approach to natural capital-led growth. The region's natural assets are inextricably linked, so traditional decision-making focussing on one sector at a time can result in unintended negative consequences for others. For example agricultural subsidies can lead to. contaminants from land bordering rivers lowering downstream water quality, affecting aquaculture, fisheries, tourism and health. SWEEP will address these problems, realising the benefits of integrated, whole system decision making through five interwoven 'Impact Themes', aiming to: 1) co-build tools to help business and government understand both the economic and environmental consequences of decisions; and 2) co-develop new business opportunities and natural capital markets giving both private and public sector organisations the means and incentive to improve nature's services, reducing their costs and risk exposure and improving their benefits.

With partners we have developed an initial set of 'Impact Cases', each addressing one or more Impact Themes, which will commence at the outset for rapid delivery of impact. They include development of new tools for natural hazard prediction and evaluation of economic/social benefits of enhancing natural capital. Careful integration across these Cases will demonstrate how the SW's high dependence on its natural environment can provide unprecedented opportunities to deliver transformative economic benefits.

The SWEEP consortium brings together a uniquely strong mix of environmental scientists, economists, social and health scientists. A team of 'Impact Fellows' will be embedded with partners to deliver the Impact Cases and scope new SWEEP activities. Partners will be integral to design, management and delivery, ensuring that all activities are aligned with user needs and fully integrated, maximising return on NERC's investment. Further value comes from alignment with the new 'Pioneers', which will be exemplars for the Government's 25YEP. Of only five 'Pioneers' nationally, two will be in the SW, providing the only integrated terrestrial-marine testbed for the 25 YEP. By working with the business and policy institutions involved in the Pioneers, SWEEP will act as a national flagship for environment-led regional growth.

Planned Impact

Many businesses and public sector organisations in the South West have a clear appreciation of the importance of the region's natural capital, in terms of regional socio-economic prosperity and well-being; both directly as derived business benefit, but also indirectly in terms of quality of life and well-being. Developing tools, processes and systems that support better accountability and valuation of the region's natural capital has been identified by many as a key requirement in bringing natural capital to the heart of public and private sector decision making.

SWEEP's five interlinked Impact Themes seek to create new business opportunities from better understanding of environmental processes, new natural capital markets to benefit the private and public sectors, and tools that can support and empower decision makers to better understand the environmental consequences of the decisions they make. Our 'systems-based' approach seeks to create new opportunities for the public and private sectors in delivering multifunctional outcomes that benefit both the economy and the environment.

In co-developing this proposal, SWEEP has engaged a wide range of public and private sector partners and will extend this process over the next five years. As a direct result of business engagement with the co-design process, SWEEP has already raised £11M of support from its partners, and will influence £225M of investment and resource asset value over the first three years of the Programme; a sum which is expected to rise to around £375M over the entire ESIP funding period. This depth of engagement will provide an excellent basis for developing a self-sustaining consortium which will transfer impact to beneficiaries nationally and provide a world-leading exemplar for placing science at the heart of natural capital-led growth.

Although SWEEP's Impact Themes will operate across a wide range of sectors, three broad groups of beneficiaries can be identified: businesses and business-supt organisations; policymakers, regulators and advisory groups; and third sector groups including charities, environmental and community groups. We have engaged a wide set of organisations from each of these groups which we expect to work with over the course of the Programme (see Beneficiaries section for details).

Work under Impact Theme 1 will benefit all sectors listed above, reducing risks and associated damage costs from natural hazards such as inland flooding and coastal storm surges; and boosting the health and tourism benefits of greenspace. Impact Theme 2 improves the efficiency and impact of public spending, which in turn generates employment, economic and environmental benefits both to wider society and the business community. Impact Theme 3 benefits the water industry and customers in terms of lower treatment and supply costs and provides both private and public sectors bodies with new markets for delivering improvements to natural capital. Impact Theme 4 provides tools for guiding decision-making across the marine, farming and urban planning sectors to reverse environmental degradation, stimulate growth and improve wellbeing. Finally, Impact Theme 5 adds value to all previous collaborations by collating advances from all other Impact Themes and combining these to realise the benefits of integrated natural capital thinking and decision making across the private, public and third sectors.


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