Birmingham must make itself “irresistible” to businessmen thinking of moving out of London.
That’s the message leading architect Glenn Howells wants the Birmingham team at MIPIM 2010 in Cannes to bear in mind – and the London stand has moved this year to a position directly opposite Birmingham.
Mr Howells, of award-winning Glenn Howells Architects, believes it can be achieved and the city is on the right track.
And he should know if anyone does.
With offices in Birmingham and London, his firm works on a range of national and international projects including mixed use schemes, theatres, cinemas, aparthotels, visitor centres and education and residential complexes.
It represents both private and public clients – the likes of Argent, Ballymore, Urban Splash, Stoford, First Base and the University of Birmingham.
Projects in Birmingham and the Midlands have taken in the renewal of the Rotunda, work on the Custard Factory, and a plan to remodel the National Arboretum.
Mr Howells believes Birmingham must place “livability” at the heart of what it is looking to achieve. And that means getting families to embrace the city centre and surrounding area.
He said 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.
Contractors were on site transforming New Street Station and plans to redevelop Paradise Circus, so expanding the link to Broad Streetand Brindleyplace, were moving forward.
It was “quite a success story” and indeed a “massive achievement” in such troubled times, he said.
These were “huge steps”, the city centre offered big retail and cultural attractions, but it needed people living in and around.
“I live a five-minute bike ride from the office – where are the emerging neighbourhoods which are going to attract people to take advantage of all that the city centre offers?
“And I am talking families, not just migrant workers and singles. It is a really important aspect. We need to offer them good homes. It is happening and there are schemes which are starting to deliver.”
The apartments which developers had concentrated on would not tend to appeal where children were involved.
However, Attwood Green was providing families with affordable housing off the city centre and it was vital to get going with the Icknield Port Loop and East Birmingham.
“We need to build wonderful new mixed communities who work in the city centre and live close to the city centre.”
Part of the problem was that so many of those currently making a living in central Birmingham got in their cars and drove out again at 5pm, taking their spending power with them.
Now was the opportunity to persuade more of them to stay by offering first class family housing.
And that had to be in conjunction with transport improvements, both New Street Station and a link with Snow Hill Station.
Birmingham, stressed Mr Howells, has much going for it.
It was bidding to win City of Culture status, it had some of the best schools in the country, it had easily accessible open countryside and there was the opportunity to work with all creeds and cultures. In contrast, family housing was expensive in London and it was difficult to experience the great outdoors.
Birmingham already had some quality housing areas – Selly Oak, Bournville, Harborne, and Edgbaston.
But, if it could offer good family homes in “the next layer out from the city centre”, then that would be a major plus.
Coupled with pushing ahead with the Big City Plan, it would mean Birmingham had a “compelling offering”.
Mr Howells added: “Rather than simply concentrating on landmark schemes the city needs to mature in its regeneration. We need integrated development. We need a good transport system.
“I think the number of critics is becoming a lot less. If they even spend a small amount of time in Birmingham, perhaps visit for a major conference, then they discover the city has a lot to enjoy and is easy to navigate. We need to tell them about the new Birmingham and then move forward with the next wave of regeneration.
“We have to get to a position where if people are searching for a move away from London, and it comes down to a contest, say, between Birmingham and Bristol, then Birmingham wins.”
And perhaps the real test would come in 10-15 years when high speed rail brought Birmingham just 40 minutes away from London.
The cynics, said Mr Howells, might argue it would allow travellers the opportunity to spend even less time in Birmingham. Instead Birminghamhad to turn potential into reality, have its offer in place, and work out how to get the most from high speed rail.
“We have to work on the livability and the quality aspect of the city centre experience,” he stressed.
“We need to be even more competitive. We must pull in businesses currently based in Londonand the South-east. We need to make Birmingham the irresistible choice.”