London – and Lord Deighton

I had the pleasure of meeting Lord Deighton on Tuesday morning at our Market Insite event in London. He was a guest alongside Simon Rubinsohn, the Chief Economist at the RICS. We presented our 2014 facts and figures to an invited London audience.

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It was really interesting to hear Lord Deighton respond to our take on the market – this was our 4th roadshow in the space of a week. Over 400 people came to the events!

Lord Deighton’s next appointment was in Downing Street co-hosting an event to match 50 investors with three regional cities – Bristol, Birmingham and Leeds. He was good enough to suggest that if it were a success then it would be rolled out and could include Nottingham, Derby and Leicester.

I did get an opportunity to ask Lord Deighton about HS2 – he chairs the HS2 Growth Task Force – about HS2.

If you follow the story you probably know that the original proposal was for a station at Toton – wedged between our three East Midlands cities. This may have gone off the boil (my view not Lord Deighton’s – he can’t comment).

My question was ‘how do we ensure that the East Midlands actually gets a station? ‘

And his answer was really interesting – he suggested that the three cities needed to work together and offer a united solution. In other words if the three cities try to steal a march on each other then the Government may see this as ‘too difficult to deal with’. They want us to make it easy for them. They want us to propose a solution which is fully supported by all.

This requires a very brave step. A step away from local interest small minded politics to thinking bigger.

I do wonder if this can be achieved – but it is pretty clear that if we don’t make it easy then it might not happen. Time for some grown-up joined-up talking?

 

Nottingham – development out of control

Last week Nottingham City Council inexplicably failed to pass plans for a new £42m Sports Hall at The University of Nottingham.

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Some background:

1. It would include a 20-court sports hall, indoor running track and 200-station fitness suite, with £3 million of the cash coming from Carphone Warehouse founder and alumni David Ross.

2. It would be one of the biggest sports complexes in the East Midlands – and the UK.

3. It would build on the excellent reputation the City has in education.

The decision was postponed last month and refused last week. You can read the sorry story here.

Some interesting facts…

1. The trees were not subject to a Tree Preservation Order or are in a Conservation Area. The University could have felled them prior to the application. They could tomorrow!

2. The University has won the Worlds Greenest University Title – again for 2014. Number one for the third time in four years

3. There are over 5,000 trees on University Park campus, of which over 600 are in the same category of significance as the three of concern to the Committee.

4. They have a national and international reputation for teaching, research and our environmental stewardship.

5. The University, its staff and students generate over a billion pounds a year for the economy of this city. Every single year.

6. The University has also committed to a vision to create an Arboretum of regional and national acclaim throughout the whole 300 acre University Park Campus. In 2012 it planted 40,000 trees on a 60 acre Diamond Wood in Sutton Bonington.

There will be tree huggers out there and I’m good with that. But the logic of this decision beggars belief. Especially against when you consider that the City Council allowed 40 similar trees to be demolished on University Boulevard and on the Ring Road to make way for ‘improvements’. Two wrongs don’t make a right – but this really does smack of hypocrisy.

From my perspective, professionally, this places us in a very difficult place. I’m off to MIPIM as part of Team Nottingham in 6 weeks to encourage developers and investors to come to Nottingham – this does not help.

Any clues as to what we should tell investors and developers would be gratefully received.

Nottingham – the future…

For a long time many people have been perplexed when we tell them that we are from the East Midlands. But the matter gets worse when you try to explain the make up of Nottingham.

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I live in Nottingham – in a suburb, but classed as the ‘City of Nottingham’. And yet I have friends who live in West Bridgford and Arnold – neither of them live in the City – they are in Rushcliffe and Gedling respectively. But they would consider them Nottinghamian’s. It’s a similar story when you head west – to Beeston – they are in Broxtowe. All of these ‘districts are a similar distance from the centre as I live.

The email I had last week said, “Council Leaders have proposed the biggest change to local government in a generation with the creation of a Combined Authority for Nottingham City, Nottinghamshire County and the seven Borough and District councils. A public consultation is currently underway to gauge local opinion – let us know you’re views before the closing date on 6th February.

Leaders of Nottingham City Council, Nottinghamshire County Council and the seven local Borough and District councils, have proposed the creation of a unified governance structure in the form of a Combined Authority (CA).The new Authority would make strategic decisions on major issues vital to the economic prosperity of the City and County as a whole, including regeneration, economic development, transport, infrastructure and more. Additional powers devolved from central Government could also be granted to the new organisation.

There are clear plans for growth in the ‘N2’ area and key findings from the N2 Governance Review reveal that a Combined Authority has the potential to strengthen the efficiency of decision making, transparency and accountability. Out of the four possible governance options considered in the review, establishing a CA was believed to be the best way to deliver sustained economic and social benefits.

Combined Authorities have already been successfully established in Greater Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield City Regions, West Yorkshire and the North East. Although a CA would effectively be a new body, it wouldn’t replace the existing authorities and any costs would be met within existing budgets.”

You can have your say here. You can read more information here.

Surely this is a good thing – on the proviso that we get the right leadership – with unified ambitions to make this a better place.

A great cause…

One of my squash friends asked if I’d publicise a great cause on my blog – in order to get some PR.

I am a bit late to all of this – Andy Wallis , of Stapleford, began a marathon charity effort on the 27th January 2014 – with the intention of running 5k every day for a year. There was a story in the Post - here.

You can read Andy’s blog here and I encourage you to donate to this great cause. Andy has raised over £5,000!

He’s coming to the end of his quest this week and should  be congratulated!

(un)friendly rivalry …

At the weekend I went to watch the Forest and Derby match. It was at Pride Park and in case you have been underground for the week Forest won 2-1. Last year they were thrashed 5-0. I am not sure I was relishing the prospect of seeing the same sort of scoreline!

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My friends suggested I would be fine as I was with the prawn sandwich supporters! It’s quite a civilised place – and the period spent out in the cold is limited to the 90+ minutes the players hit the pitch.

At first I though the atmosphere was great – although being a Forest ‘supporter’ in amongst a lot of Derby fans requires some constraint! When Forest scored I thought a big celebration was unwise, when they scored the second – even more so. That wasn’t the case for three people in front of me. They were very happy to noisily and visibly celebrate – which was clearly unwise.

But what then happened was really quite worrying. The ‘banter’ turned nasty. Objects (coins) were thrown at them. And the language was more than colourful. They were threatened and I thought that they were in danger. I wasn’t the only one – two stewards suggested they leave, “for their own safety”. They did leave.

This is not a story about a group of Derby fans – because I think the same would have happened at Forest.

I have been to see International Rugby and sat next to opposing fans – who do not react in that way. There was no segregation.

There were kids in amongst the fans I sat with and I do know that they didn’t need to hear the language or see the reaction of these ‘fans’.  It’s not a great example. It’s really quite sad.

It’s getting better…

Yesterday was the first of my firms ‘Market Insite’ presentations. This is the 8th year of our look back on the market and our take on the next 12…

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In my first blog of the year I indicated that I was optimistic about the year ahead. I saw this inspirational poster on-line and thought it probably represented how I felt!

Our research has showed that the East Midlands in the last 12 months has had a good run – improving rents, major investment and good take up. If you would like a copy of the research please feel free to get in touch and I’ll be happy to send it to you.

We know that there are some challenges ahead – mostly around the political uncertainty for the election. Inflation will remain low though and money should be cheap throughout 2015.

This morning we are in Derby and tomorrow in Leicester. These markets are key to our business and we expect to see around 500 people at the events. Next week we hit London and we have two key speakers (alongside my Partners) including Lord Deighton – commercial secretary to the Treasury. Simon Rubinsohn, Chief Economist at the RICS will speak too.

If you are in London next Tuesday morning and would like to attend – let me know!

Virgin Media – Hotel California rules?

I might have mentioned that my mum is in a Nursing Home for the foreseeable future. So I have to deal with her house and general affairs.

Virgin Media Union Jack Logo_0On Saturday night I tried to deal with Virgin Media – who provide her with a landline and a TV service. In case you don’t know the lyrics to The Eagles great song, Hotel California, they include the line, “you can check out but you can never leave”.This seems o be the general rule.

I have an EPA over mums affairs. I get her bills and accounts. I set most of them up via email / web access for ease. Including Virgin Media.

On Saturday night I decided I should close down the service as we don’t need it – and here are some genuine facts:

1. I can add as many services as I like on-line. Spend, spend, spend.

2. If you want to move house that’s OK, you can easily sort that too.

3. If you want to move house but don’t want to re-use Virgin, that’s a little more tricky – you can’t actually do that on-line. That needs a call to their amazing call-centre.

4. The call includes several layers of options – mostly five at a time. You enter a string of numbers and passwords. These never make the actual person who answers the phone though – you do it all again for fun. The girl was perplexed when I asked why…

5. Cancelling can’t be done over the phone in my instance; you have to write to them.

6. This was because I got the password wrong (the initial one my mum set up six years ago)

7. You can’t email – this is going to shock you – VIRGIN DO NOT HAVE EMAIL. So a media company have no email.

8. The conversation is sprinkled with ‘Data Protection Act‘ – accompanied by ‘we can’t do that because…’

9. Richard wasn’t there.

I know that these businesses are keen to retain your business – but these are people who have no incentive to get to ‘yes’.

I have given up and cancelled the standing order. I could do that in two clicks.

Nottingham – opportunity city…

Yesterday I got up early. Really early.

I chaired a forum of ‘Team Nottingham’ folks who had been invited to a round table discussion with an agenda set by Richard Baker at the Nottingham Post. It was intended to address some age old questions which tend to get our attention in the run up to the property show in Cannes in March.

Things like, “what is the message the city want to give” and “what is our identity”.

18 other folks got out of bed in the dark to sample some great breakfast at the Park Plaza Hotel – who were good enough to host us.

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I thought the event went well and there was an air of positivity in the room; there were some really great points made – which we are trying to distil into some messages we can all use when promoting the City. These include…

  • There is no simple message; Nottingham offers lots of things (a ‘Daley Thompson‘ analogy was made) and we shouldn’t apologise about this.
  • We are coming to the end of a major infrastructure investment period – the next stage is for us to use it and trade off it
  • We have some great assets – young people and two Universities being highlighted
  • Our Life Sciences sector is world class -Walgreens Boots Alliance is now one of the biggest pharmacy chains in the world.
  • Our Creative Quarter is growing and has amazing traction.
  • The development of The Castle should put Robin Hood and The Sheriff of Nottingham back on the map (more on this in a later blog!)

We still have many challenges. The Broad Marsh Centre remains the elephant in the room.

The feeling in the room though was one of optimism.

We tried to pin down our wish list too – “if you could only have one thing” …

  • A project to die for
  • Better communication
  • A Premiership football team
  • Harvey Nicks
  • Broad Marsh
  • A manufactring base

This sort of event gives us something to build on…

(Did I mention I had to get up early?)

Clustering talent

When I was in San Francisco last month I was struck by the clustering of IT and social media talent – in a very small geographical space – Google, LinkedIn, Apple and Twitter all within an hours drive. Many Cities are trying to emulate this – both in terms of IT sectors and other ‘fashionable’ groupings. In Nottingham we have the Creative Quarter as an example.

Clustering is really important if our Cities are to differentiate themselves from the Vanilla. Which Cities aren’t ‘open for business‘?

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I read an article which tried to consider what attracts people to create these clusters and the consensus seemed to be:

1. Coffee shops – this is where people want to work – in fact they expect to work! Free wi-fi. Good coffee. Hip & Trendy. Not always the corporate Starbucks or Costa either…

2. Funky buildings – not always the Grade A space we think. Bricks and mortar. Old, non-airconditioned. Bench tables and light / dark spaces. Water machines and power points. Informal space. Inspiring space.

3. Mentors – access to mentors (usually over 40!) – who can temper the new ideas with reality.

4. Entrepreneurial spirit – believers who know they are onto the next big thing.

5. Proximity to a University with emphasis on the Sciences or Computing – churning out smart people.

6. Access to capital or business angels.

7. Equity – businesses willing to share equity at an early stage with the bright young things – to keep them engaged and interested.

8. An environment which encourages new-business start-ups.

9. An atmosphere of success all around. Good business breeding good business.

Clearly some of these points are easy – others less so. But then if it were easy then everyone would be doing it?

The future of ‘surveying’

I was asked a few months ago by my ‘trade’ magazine if I had a view about how the industry might change over the next few years. They were after specifics and I had considered two – which I think will happen in my professional career – one is here now in limited form, the other is here in part.

The first change I think we will see is the use of remote technology for most surveying technology.

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Most of us can get a pretty good picture of a building and it’s surrounds from the internet and various resources we tap into. We have digital mapping, google earth (or Bing – which is better!), the VOA web site, Planning portals at Local Authorities and a whole host of data gatherers on ‘comparable’ properties. But we are starting to see some drone quadrocopters for building surveying – reducing the need for platform lifts and scary ladders! These have really taken off in the last few years and are now within the reach of most forms (forgive the pun).

If Amazon are seriously contemplating sending your books by drone it won’t be long before we send a drone to take some pictures!

The second thing – and there is surely an opportunity here for someone – is to try to aggregate all of the data that we can tap into.

One of the scourges of modern life is ‘data-overload’. I can imagine that, at some point, we are going to get to a position where the relevant data is filtered for the work we do and is aggregated into one place.

If that sounds slightly scary for most professionals who will fear there livelihoods, there is still a role to play of us. I was taught many years ago that our valuation work is an art and not a science – and the art is in interpreting the data we have before us. That is a skill learned and honed by experience. That need not change – but the initial processing work might…

It’s exciting stuff?