Watford can look forward to a resurgent commercial future propelled by £750 million worth of building projects, according to the departing head of its chamber of commerce.
Roger Gagan, who retired as chief executive after 12 years this week, said developments such as the Croxley Rail Link and Charter Place rebuild will help power Watford’s post-recession recovery.
The 66-year-old Watford Grammar School for Boys alumnus cited the shopping centre’s redevelopment a particularly key initiative due to the importance of retail Watford.
He said: "There is £750 million worth of investment signed off to go into Watford over the next few years. That’s three major schemes: The Croxley Rail Link, the redevelopment of the health campus, which is ongoing, and the redevelopment of Charter Place, where there will be 70 new shops coming in.
"Retail is very important to Watford and it is very important Watford stays top of the league in terms of retail. The redevelopment of Charter Place will very much reinforce our place as one of the top retail towns.
The new Charter Place design
"There also are a lot of new companies coming into Watford. We have been affected by the recession, no question about that. But we have been affected less than many towns. We have attracted business into the town and are still attracting business into the town and we are coming out of recession very fast.
"I had statistics quoted to me that property prices have already grown by 10 per cent this year. Well, you can say that is a good or a bad thing, that depends, but it indicates that Watford is town that people want to live in. Watford has a huge amount going for it."
Mr Gagan said Watford’s location close to the capital and its excellent transport links mean it could continue to attract new businesses and "punched above its weight" economically.
He added: "The town has changed and many of the bigger companies have gone like the print, like Scammell Trucks, but we have reinvented ourselves of the years. We are a financial hub - many banks and building societies have got offices here.
"We also have the head offices of numerous, either the UK, European or world headquarters for many household name companies. People like Camelot, Total UK, Mothercare, TK Maxx, Hilton group, so Watford is the home and the reasons are sevenfold. First [reason Watford attracts big business is] we have unique communication links in Watford: five airports in an hour’s drive and the two busiest motorways in Europe, the M1 and M25 pass by.
A mock up overview of the Croxley Rail Link
"We also have a highly skilled workforce and our proximity to London is very important for attracting companies to the town."
When asked what one thing could help improve Watford’s economy, Mr Gagan singled out Watford Junction station.
He said: "Watford Junction is an area that needs redevelopment and we are very close to get funds. The area around the junction now, there’s a lot of traffic congestion around Station Road, so the council are working hard to bring investment. We also need more fast trains to stop at Watford Junction a lot of trains whizz through the junction. It does cause problems with companies, if someone wants to go to midlands or the north they can’t go from Watford Junction."
Mr Gagan joined the Watford Chamber of Commerce in 2001 after a 33-year career at the bank Natwest, which culminated with him overseeing 40 branches and 400 staff as Area Manager for North London.
He was convinced to take up the role for the then struggling chamber by Chris Pichon, the then chief executive of the Watford enterprise agency Wenta.
When he first took the reins at the chamber it was far from the thriving organisation he left behind this month.
Mr Gagan said: "The chamber didn’t bear any resemblance to what it is now. We had no members, no events, hardly any staff and no money. Survival was the name of the game.
"If you fast forward 12 years we have over 500 members, we have launched another chamber of commerce over in Hertsmere, we run a whole range of events throughout the year with excellent guest speakers. We have had the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Vince Cable, Ken Clarke, Lord Coe, Esther Rantzen. We also work with lots of schools and charities in the town"
The Watford FC season ticket holder said he is looking forward to spending his retirement watching the Hornets, seeing more of his four grandchildren, gardening and travelling.