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12 JUN 2018

The future of the West Midlands as an economic hub

Sporting events bring buzz to a city, region and country but in the wake of the event can leave the once buzzing space like a ghost town.

The merits of staging major sporting events will always be met with criticism, especially given the costs involved, and legacy can’t be taken for granted.

For the UK, the legacy of our sporting events have delivered positive social and economic change. London 2012 contributed to the much-improved economy in East London and studies from the University of Glasgow highlight the macro and environmental legacy of the 2014 Glasgow games.

Ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games coming to Birmingham, in a panel event at the official opening of RICS in Birmingham, experts explore the impact the games will have on the city and the legacy it intends to leave.

How do we ensure the wealth from the games isn’t concentrated in just the city centre?

Richard Cowell, Assistant Director of Development at Birmingham City Council acknowledged there is already a huge amount of investment going into the city centre of Birmingham but in balance, there is great wealth of investment going into the wider region. Longbridge has seen £1billion of investment in one of the region’s largest regeneration projects, transforming a huge part of the city.

To the east, the metro network is extending out of the city centre to the airport, NEC and HS2 links. There is the new hospital and thousands of news homes to the west and to the north, the Commonwealth Games now means Perry Barr will be regenerated alongside a new stadium and improved transport connections. With investment happening right across the city it’s starting to connect all the areas together.   

But how do we ensure plans proceed with the setbacks, like the House of Fraser closures?

Retail is not the only market changing. The world is changing with the rapid growth in technology and we have to keep up with it. The key for Birmingham as a city is to strategically look at a range of sectors and areas and not just one, that is what will deliver long term success. Projects need to be diverse. Birmingham Smithfield – one of the largest regeneration projects in the UK – will look to deliver offerings in leisure, retail and commercial. As markets fluctuate and changes come the investment in infrastructure is what will allow cities to respond.

The key for Birmingham as a city is to strategically look at a range of sectors and areas and not just one, that is what will deliver long term success.

What is the responsibility of built environment professionals to ensure these projects deliver the legacy?

With £1billion in investment for the Commonwealth Games Simon Marks, UK City Executive, Birmingham at Arcadis knows that professionals owe it to themselves, the public and communities to ensure there is a legacy after the games. With the athlete’s village in Perry Barr forming the first phase of a bigger multi regeneration project, to ensure a legacy is left professionals must design for legacy and then come back to ‘games mode’. The aim is to deliver a new community, that will be built to the highest quality and set new benchmarks, not just for housing, but in infrastructure and environmental.

What the Commonwealth Games brings is an opportunity to accelerate a regeneration programme that would usually take 10-15 years and deliver it in under four, fundamentally changing a community and the perception of the city.

And the biggest challenges we face in terms of transport? How do we make sure these are all linked up?

With a huge amount of projects happening right across the region, Midlands Connect, Director, Maria Machancoses understands the challenges and opportunities when it comes to infrastructure. With several projects and programmes happening across the region the next few years are set to be phenomenal, but when the main decisions on road and rail are still made in Westminster, to fully maximise the potential of, not only the Commonwealth Games, but the wealth of activity, the Midlands as a whole need to unite.

To get the commitment needed from Government for improved infrastructure across the region, there needs to be a very clear, compelling and joined up approach. Nothing will be achieved by working in pockets and therefore it is vital that the connections are made between east and west, and include everything from food production to manufacturing to ensure the region gets the infrastructure it requires. 

Plans are just plans until work commences, does the region have the talent to deliver on all of this?

As skill shortages are always an impediment of growth, GVA Apprentice, Adelle Rhule-Martin knows all too well about how hard it is to find out about the built environment. With a lack of space in the curriculum at present the education system does not show young people about the careers available to them in the surveying, property and built environment.

From wanting to be an accountant, only after attending an academy event on careers in the professional service sector, her work experience placement is what changed her direction. As the first apprentice at GVA, Adelle knows that unless you stumble across surveying or have a family connection there is a lot of work still to be done. The responsibility falls on everyone to get into schools and educate them on the careers available and the diversity of training.

How can that change be delivered?

Already there is positive changes for young people entering the built environment, by offering apprenticeships in addition to the traditional routes to the professions. But for more change to come, in Adelle’s opinion it starts from the top. If organisations have approachable CEOs or Senior Regional Directors who make people feel their voice can be heard, more people will find ways to help deliver on the shortage of skills we currently have.

RICS at Colmore Row

RICS offices at 55 Colmore Row were officially opened by Andy Street, West Midlands Mayor, John Hughes, RICS President,  and Sean Tompkins, RICS CEO, on 11 June 2018. Space will be available to professionals come summer 2018 and further announcements will follow.