Escalating rents and increasing traffic congestion are contributing to more businesses quitting birmingham city centre in favour of greener climes. Duncan Tift looks at the exodus of firms to the countryside
Kerst Ward gazed out of his office window on to landscaped pools which are home to a thriving population of wild fowl and said: "You don't get that view at Five Ways."
The chance to work in such an environment is one reason why more and more firms are choosing to leave the city behind them and search for a better life in the Midland countryside.
But aesthetics are not the only reason - there is also the fact that it makes good business sense.
New research completed for the West Midlands Regional Assembly's annual monitoring report suggests that the shift by businesses to the shire counties shows no signs of abating.
The report said new office space was being developed all the time to cater for the needs of city businesses looking to relocate.
Mr Ward's company, PR and advertising agency Ward Lovett, is a perfect example of this. For 11 years the firm was based at Five Ways, in the heart of Birmingham city centre.
However, the ambitious company was keen to expand but was thwarted in its attempts because of the crippling rents demanded for prime office space.
"The rents we were paying were absolutely astronomical.
"We decided that for the money we were paying out for rent in Birmingham we could afford to buy something elsewhere," said Mr Ward.
So in October last year, the firm decamped 20 miles away to a new office development in Cannock. The Kingswood Lakeside development is a large plot of reclaimed colliery land and is already home to major distribution centres operated by food groups Unilever and 3663.
The second phase of the site is more landscaped and between picturesque lakes there is a developing mix of new office development.
"We now have our own office and since moving in October we have been able to expand the business and take on an extra seven staff.
"We lost one member of staff in the move because she did not want to relocate, however, we have retained everyone else, including one person who lives in Stratford and commutes here every day on public transport," added Mr Ward.
"We are delighted with how things have worked out and have no regrets about moving out of the city."
He said that apart from the semi-rural location, another appeal of the Staffordshire town was its excellent transport links.
"We are right on the doorstep of a major junction of the M6 Toll and the M6 itself is only a mile up the road.
"Whenever our clients come to see us they invariably remark on how easy it was to get to our offices," he said.
Independent property developers Oakmoor Estates is another to have moved out of offices in Birmingham city centre.
The six-year-old company, which has worked on projects across the Midlands, including Birmingham, Coventry, Lichfield, Solihull and Leamington Spa, moved to its new base in a converted barn in Balsall Common two years ago.
Managing director Mike Jones said a number of factors persuaded the company to leave behind their base in Hagley Road.
He said: "As with any major city, there were problems with parking, congestion, getting into the city and the overall environment. Individually they would not be enough to drive us out, but collectively they made life - and business - more difficult.
"Our new more rural headquarters is a genuinely pleasant place to work and the problems of congestion on the way to the office are a thing of the past.
"We do a lot of work in Birmingham with companies and architects based in the city and have found access into the city is often as easy as travelling across it.
"As a result we tend to have meetings at their offices but when they do come to us they invariably comment on how pleasant the surroundings are."
Mr Jones said the business had not suffered as a result of the move and the more rural location has had real benefits for the staff.
"With so many contacts in Birmingham we have ready access to offices when required but we don't feel we are missing out by not having our own base in the city," he added.
"Quick access to some of our key markets is crucial and, for example, being able to get into Coventry more easily has been great, as it is a city on the rise and home to a number of big developments.
"I think working in the countryside improves the morale of staff and from a business point of view we've managed to keep our finger on the pulse but avoid the stresses of the rat race."
However, the benefits of relocating come at a price, at least as far as business planners are concerned. Many are worried that with more firms deciding to move, efforts to further regenerate the conurbation could be affected badly.
The regional assembly's report states: "There appears to be clear evidence of the continued suburbanisation of business activity.
"Although business stocks are increasing overall, they are falling in the Birmingham/Black Country conurbation.
"This clearly goes against the pattern we would wish to see for urban renaissance."
Conservationists are also unhappy with the situation. The Campaign to Protect Rural England is just one pressure group that believes the growing number of people fleeing towns and cities for the countryside is putting too great a strain on land resources, especially in the green belt.
It said it also believed the exodus would increase, undermining efforts to make areas like East Birmingham, the Black Country and North Staffordshire more desirable places to live.
However, the government has said that sufficient new homes can be provided by utilising brownfield sites and protecting the green belt.
Around three-quarters of all new homes in the West Midlands are already built on brownfield sites and the Department for Communities and Local Government has said that thousands of hectares of such land is still available. ..SUPL: