A quiet blogging week

You may have noticed I have been unusually quiet. I am actually in La Plagne – a great ski resort deep in the Alps. Snow has been plentiful (too much at times!) and the blue skies not as often as I had hoped. But you can’t do much about the weather.

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Although I am on holiday the work doesn’t really stop. If I ignored all of the emails, next Monday would be a major car crash! So I try to have a concerted (aka brutal) attack on the emails. You might notice f you received a reply from me – it may have been short and sweet!

But I have had another major issue this week. I only book hotels where I get free wifi. This is a principle. I have no desire to be ripped off for a ‘service’ which costs the hotels next to nothing to supply. I don’t expect giga-bit connectivity – just something that resembles 2015 – ‘usable’.

My Hotel has an issue. The wifi is free but is virtually unusable. It allows a three or four minute connection and then drops. You have to sign in and then sign in again. I suspect that the problem is the authentication. The username and password are both your room number! So I have tried a few times to discover that i was already logged on! I did speak (nicely) to reception who agreed to ‘look int it’. This is similar to the cheque is in the post. And being France I am sure they did, briefly, look into it. So that’s that then.

To make matter slightly worse – having arrived off the slopes the hotel has no water. Reception didn’t need to look into it. “It is perfectly normal” the girl said – in a perfect English accent.

Without wishing to be picky – it is not normal. I am not in the Sudan. Poor wifi I will get over. No water is a slightly bigger issue.

The Hotel is The Terra Nova in Plagne Centre. You have been ‘advised’…

MIPIM and Boots

I’m currently deep in the Alps practising my French for MIPIM – which starts in 2 weeks time. I’m hoping Cannes has slightly less snow than La Plagne!

You probably know that I’m attanding with Team Nottingham – for the tenth year (I think). The team is as big as it’s ever been – 20 private sector partners now. All rather different from when we rescued the show in 2011 – after Nottingham City Council pulled funding.

For the last few years we have had a number of messages to take to investors, developers and owner occupiers who gather in Cannes for an intense 4 days fo networking.

Boots logo - High res

This year I have a slightly different role in that I will be going to actively promote the Boots Enterprise Zone – having just been appointed at the agent.

This is a fantastic commission for us on lots of levels. It is probably the largest single agency instruction to have been awarded in the last 20 years locally – I can only think that Pride Park was bigger.

But it is also a fascinating project to be involved in and one which can shape Nottingham for the future.

I’ll blog some more on this as time goes on but heres a flavour:

The aim is to:

– Creating a health, beauty and wellbeing themed commercial and residential urban village
– Develop a hub around the current Boots Operational centre
– Create a significant life-sciences campus – an international centre of gravity
– Offer a unique complete life style option – live, work, enterprise and innovation will be fully integrated

There are up to 80 acres of development land – with the ability to provide up to 880,000 sq ft of developable commercial space. In addition the site can accommodate up to 675 new homes.

This truly is an opportunity to be part of a very significant place-making exercise and one of huge importance locally.

I can’t wait…

Nottingham Castle – a glimmer of hope

If you have followed my blog for a while you will know that I have a passion for Nottingham capitalising on one single asset / legend / story / myth – Robin Hood. Whilst his origins and life may have little place in fact books – we do actually have a Castle and a real Sheriff of Nottingham.

bandstand

For reasons I simply have never understood we don’t use them. We pay lip service. The Castle is a let down.

I have been truly cynical – as is my way (see my views last week on Intu). I was cynical about the supposed Lottery Heritage Fund monies – and the initial scheme put forward (some toilets on the back of the gatehouse?).

But two weeks ago I was invited to coffee at the Castle to meet a new City tour de force. Heather Mayfield hails from Arnold – but since 1979 has been in charge of the Science Museum in London. She has been appointed as CEO of the Nottingham Castle Trust – a body designed to oversee the redevelopment.

She has big ideas for the Castle and the story of Nottingham. Some of the ideas were introduced by the Sheriff’s Commission five years ago.

The naysayers have already started – worried about the loss of the grass and the bandstand – they will ever be so.

But Nottingham deserves better. A proper attraction – somewhere we can be proud of and puts us on the tourist trail. I have lost count of the time I have spent campaigning quietly for this. I had actually given up in the belief that those in charge really do think the present Castle is OK. It’s not OK.

Having spent an hour with Heather I believe that she has the drive and passion to make something happen. Make something change.

She has my support and I have just about got over my bitterness about being sacked off the Sheriff’s Commission!

Shopping – again

It was a bit of a grumpy blog on Friday – all about Intu. I apologise for it – but it was Friday the 13th. And it was another announcement – which have become like collectable little matchbox cars – without the sense of fun.

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But there was another story last week which you might have nearly missed. That is that (in spite of Intu’s appalling treatment of us) our shopping in Nottingham is doing rather well.

The latest figures from the Local Data Company paint a very different picture from two years ago. Back then we were supposed to have one in three shops empty – which we all knew was wrong, but on a comparable basis we are now at 12.9%. In fact the retail agents in the City run their own figures and we think that the true figure in the city centre is 9.4% when you take account of shops under offer.

In fact you don’t need the statistics – just walk around. The City feels different. There are more shops open – but the great thing is that we have some different shops – like the truly excellent Rough Trade shop in the Lace Market. Like 200 degrees coffee near The Market Square.

I have been involved in a couple of deals in the City in the last few months and there is true competition for occupiers. We are seeing some ‘best bids’ situation – which will mean more competition and better shopping for us all.

In honesty we still have some way to go. Where is our Selfridges? Where are Apple? Birmingham still steals a march on us – but things are looking up. And the City is in a better shape than it was two years ago!

Intu and QI?

Yesterday there was a fanfare. A loud one. Intu made an announcement about Broadmarsh Centre in Nottingham. You can read the story on the Nottingham Post website here.

QI_Fry

The passage of interest says:

Intu says it expects to start work on the redevelopment in spring 2016, with work due to be completed by 2018.

Yes, “expects“. Not exactly a commitment then. It also expects to lodge a Planning Application “in the next two months“.

Forgive my cynicism – but the one thing Intu are good at is announcements about stuff in the future. The Spring of 2016 is a long way off, two months isn’t long – but my question is why these announcements. We’ve been promised some new patio doors since 2003.

Would it not have been better to announce that the Planning Application had been made.

Done.

In.

Been registered at the City Council? And a timetable of a Consent within 13 weeks at the outside – with a contractor starting on the 1st of September 2015? Except of course they still have the nightmare of the ‘Out of Control” Development Control Committee to contend with – akin to a roll of the dice.

This whole announcement thing reminded me of the moment on QI when someone utters the blindingly obvious question of “when”. The klaxon sounds. It wakes us briefly from our slumber but we slip away again.

It’s boring. We have heard it all before. Credibility meter is barely at zero.

Just let us know when it is all done?

Guest blogging for Nottingham Means Business

I wrote this guest blog for Nottingham Means Business last week…

What is coming is better than what has gone!

It’s been a tough few years in the property game; the doldrums of 2008 seem to have finally left us.

We presented our Market Insite to over 400 people recently – in our three cities but also in London too. We have been monitoring the regional property market for more than a decade. This year’s report showed increased levels of speculative development and refurbishment across the region – the investment sector lead the way as confidence returned to the market and multi-million pound investments in transport and leisure delivering excellent facilities across the region helping, with more to come in 2015.

The East Midlands has really pushed itself to the fore during 2014, emerging as one of the strongest regional economies in the UK, and the property market is undoubtedly reflecting that.

Commercial property prices are approaching pre-crash levels in some sectors and the UK is set to power ahead in 2015. The mood across the East Midlands property market is a positive one, as we look ahead to what is set to be an exciting 2015.

The market in the East Midlands has not been subject to the fluctuations experienced in the South East, and we could well see the regions come further to the fore in 2015 as domestic institutions look outside of the over-heated London market to invest in higher yielding markets.

Political focus on the regions could also have a hugely positive impact on the East Midlands, with devolution a real buzz word outside of the capital at the moment.

In Nottingham, improvements to the retail offering are well underway with the £40m redevelopment works at intu Victoria Centre set for completion in December, with a range of new restaurants due to open in time for Christmas. Plans for a multi-million revamp of intu Broadmarsh are also due to be submitted for planning in the early part of this year too.

Industrial activity in Nottingham was up 45% on 2013 levels and investment deals were at £300m – more than double the 2013 figures.

At the London event we were joined by Commercial Secretary to the Treasury – Lord Deighton who heralded the East Midlands as an “excellent place to invest” – and said HS2 would help unlock even greater growth in the region. He also saw that investors are increasingly looking outside London for value and opportunity – and that the East Midlands was making the most of this.

Lord Deighton, who is the Minister for UK infrastructure projects, said at our event, “The potential location of a station in the East Midlands is a key issue. An East Midlands hub is essential. It is important to choose the right location and discussions on this are now underway.”

But he also said it wasn’t all about HS2. There is the £500 million extension of rail electrification from Bedford to Nottingham, as the first phase of the ‘Electrine Spine’ programme which will see the whole of London to Sheffield route electrified.

“Add to that, major investment in the road infrastructure in the East Midlands, such as the A453 widening due to be finished later this year and which improves access between Nottingham and the M1. Through growth deals announced in July 2014, the Government will invest more than £17 million in projects across Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire to fund a wide range of projects to unlock local growth.”

In my view one of the biggest challenges facing the market at the moment is a lack of good quality stock, but already a number of schemes have been announced to deliver high quality space throughout the East Midlands.

In Nottingham, the return of speculative refurbishment has already begun to supplement stock levels in the city, a trend that I fully expect to see continue during 2015, not only in Nottingham but across the region.

Reasons to be cheerful as Ian Dury once quipped!

Digital stories

You might know that I have quite a lot of music at my disposal – 55,000 tracks on iTunes, unlimited music on Spotify and a revitalised and growing vinyl collection.

serial-podcast

But in spite of all of this I sometimes have too much choice and hit the Radio 4 button (especially in the car).

A month or so ago though I came across a podcast – Serial.

It’s a 12 part story and the PR say’s, “It’s Baltimore, 1999. Hae Min Lee, a popular high-school senior, disappears after school one day. Six weeks later detectives arrest her classmate and ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, for her murder. He says he’s innocent – though he can’t exactly remember what he was doing on that January afternoon. But someone can. A classmate at Woodlawn High School says she knows where Adnan was. The trouble is, she’s nowhere to be found.”

I listened to all of the episodes over about a week! It’s addictive. It’s well written and brilliantly produced.

The links to the iTunes versions and on-line downloads are in the link here.

I loved it and can wholeheartedly recommend it. I can’t wait for series 2 …

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.

Innes England-13

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.

Tree_Hugger

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.