Birmingham is caught in an investment conundrum, according to the city’s investment and property professionals.
And they have called on the Birmingham delegation at MIPIM 2010 in Cannes to fight tooth and nail for inward investment and the billions that is still needed to beef up the region’s attractiveness to global companies.
City Council leader Coun Mike Whitby has hailed the next ten years as the Decade of Delivery, citing projects such as the Birmingham Gateway development of New Street Station and the Library of Birmingham which are now underway.
But the city’s investment professionals argue that if the infrastructure isn’t there – and Birmingham still has some way to go – then it is hard to attract inward investors. But how do you get the millions needed to improve the roads, rail, airport and broadband offering?
The light on the horizon is that HS2 has been announced and should be starting to make a difference by 2018, and this week saw the announcement that the final £25 million piece in the funding jigsaw required to finance the all-important runway extension at Birmingham International Airport has been found.
Birmingham’s theme this year at MIPIM is about Birmingham going into a “Decade of Delivery”, but with public sector spending cuts expected from whoever wins the coming General Election that is going to get more difficult.
The city has a vast shopping list of projects it would like to get started, and, though the private sector is very active, some will need central government kick-start cash.
There are hopes for progress on schemes like Paradise Circus, the old Post & Mail building and elements of Eastside.
The council is trumpeting Bordesley Park, totalling 37 acres to the east of the city centre, and the “jewel in the crown”, the strategically important Southern Gateway area of 150 acres which has at its heart the wholesale markets – due to relocate in the near future.
The giant 198 acre Ladyport area which surrounds the Icknield Port Loop site is at present a shaded area on a wishlist.
But in some cases the picture is not quite so positive - there is little sign of life over the likes of Arena Central and the V Building. There have, however, been significant investment successes.
Deutsche Bank and HSBC have announced they will be creating a total of 600 back office jobs in Birmingham.
Public services provider Amey chose the city for its international design hub and is rapidly building to 700 staff.
Some Whitehall posts have moved from London to Birmingham in the form of the Big Lottery Fund, English Heritage, the Gambling Commission and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. The arrival of the Office of Legal Complaints is further good news.
However, every time there is a win, Birmingham gets knocked back – in recent years the auto industry has suffered grievously, with the demise of MG Rover’s Longbridge plant, the recent announcement by Tata that one of its Solihull or Castle Bromwich operations is to go, and the collapse of van maker LDV.
The Kraft takeover has put a question mark over the future of Cadbury. Yet Birmingham has much going for it.
It has a young population, it has a strong professional services sector, its arts and theatre are much admired, it is centrally located, it has some excellent schools and universities and its history is all about hard work and graft.
Massive regeneration, such as the Bullring, Brindleyplace and the Mailbox, has brought fresh confidence.
Which leaves both a gulf and an opportunity.
Rory Daly, managing director of chartered surveyors Bigwood, said: “The regeneration in the last five to 10 years has been incredible, but we need to get it over the finishing line. And we need investment to do that. There is a real opportunity for people to come in and make a difference. Make a statement. We have broken the back of it.”
It is a common theme.
Adrian Watson, chairman of the Investment Property Forum, said: “The announcement about the new high speed train link to London is very welcome and work on New Street station has started at last. However, for Birmingham to be the largest city in Europe not to have a comprehensive underground or tram system in the city centre is ridiculous and must be addressed. Birmingham will become a much more viable business centre when these are in place. I like the Decade of Delivery idea, but the priorities need to be set.”
Leading architect Glenn Howells, of Glenn Howells Architects, believes Birmingham must place “livability” at the heart of plans – and that means providing family homes.
However it was fantastic that the city centre continued to make progress when in other parts of the country the cranes were standing idle, scuppered by the recession.
It was a “massive achievement” in such troubled times, he said.
Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya, head of Warwick Manufacturing Group, who has attracted hundreds of millions of pounds of investment into the West Midlands, said Birmingham had made progress but questioned whether enough was being done.
He said: “Birmingham is changing – it is modernising. Over the last 20 years the city centre has reinvented itself.
“But it probably hasn’t happened fast enough, it has not always been done as imaginatively as other cities, and the iconic buildings Birmingham needs have not yet happened.”
He added: “But when we talk about Michelin-starred restaurants and the Balti belt, that just does not cut it. And the city centre hasn’t got the night life.”
Progress on transport infrastructure was equally mixed, said Lord Bhattacharyya, who lives in Moseley.
He said: “We need to work very hard to get major projects off the ground. An awful lot of people seem to be involved in marketing Birmingham, and I am sure Neil Rami at Marketing Birmingham is doing his best, but there is a lot still to do and we must take advantage of MIPIM as a showcase to the world.”
James Watkins, executive director of Business Voice WM, highlighted the push to develop high speed broadband for the city as being key for the future.
He said: “This will boost the competitiveness of the region and make it more attractive to major international inward investors.”
Islamic finance had bucked the recession, and Birmingham was at the heart of its expansion in the UK.
Also, Kuwaiti money was behind proposals to redevelop parts of Digbeth.
Meanwhile, the introduction of Accelerated Development Zones into the West Midlands would be a plus for the region’s economy, according to BVWM.
Three projects have been proposed – the redevelopment of Longbridge, Wolverhampton transport interchange and the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill rapid transport corridor – but the Government is yet to make a decision.
Glyn Pitchford, the BVWM business representative on the City Region board, said: “ADZs, which originated in the United States, could be the much needed gap funding device to stimulate the regeneration we need and take forward some much sought-after projects.”