2009 – a year in review

I think as you get older the years just seem to fly by much quicker. But looking back on 2009 as the year draws to a close, I tried to think through the highs and lows of the year. On reflection, many more highs than lows I think. Which can only be a good thing! So here goes:

High Points

1. A great weekend in September at St Andrews celebrating our 25th Wedding Anniversary. We stayed in an amazing hotel overlooking the 18th hole at the Old Course. Where did 25 years go? St Andrews is a magical place – I can’t believe we had not discovered it earlier. It helps if you like golf…

St Andrews - and the 18th hole on the Old Course

2. Our son Jack getting 8 GCSE’s and a place at Confetti. This despite his Dyslexia. And then Jade getting a hard-earned place at TeachFirst and working in two challenging schools. Adam worked on another film – the details of which I will spare you, but if I said it was an NHS Information film – that’s enough of a clue!

Jack, Jade and Adam - in the Summer.

3. Lesley and I seeing The Killers at Madison Square Garden (New York) in January. Quite a long way to go to see a gig but they were just brilliant – and then we came home and saw them again at The Arena in Nottingham. Musically the Isle of Wight featured in the calendar again – and was great – especially the infamous toilets & showers… I wasn’t sure about Neil Young though!

The Killers play Madison Square Garden NYC

4. The opening of the Abel Collins ‘Drury Bungalows’ in November – at the end of a three year stint! I think they are great and four couples will move in shortly! The Sheriff of Nottingham and his Lady did us proud on the day – and I think the bungalows are brilliant! Designed by Marsh Grochowski they are ‘of their time’! High green credentials make them highly energy efficient.

The Abel Collins Almshouses - Drury Bungalows

5. My trip with the Sheriff of Nottingham to the USA in September – to research World Class attractions. We visited six cities in 10 days, flying 12,500 miles. It was exhausting but informative – and there was some fun along the way. Highlights – Segway riding, The Experience Music Project in Seattle, Getty Museum in LA, Alcatraz, The High Line in New York and Little Boots in concert – and much more!

The USA tour team - at Top of the Rocks NYC

6. Seeing Jack play his first gig as part of the Hockley Hustle 2009. They were great (I may be a bit biased). That all of their friends turned up was just great to see.

Jack playing drums in his first gig

7. A great holiday in Dartmouth – including an interesting two days sailing – more so for me than Jack – who was none too well! It may have been something he ate – or could it have been the force 7/8 gale?


Dartmouth Harbour

8. The celebrations in Paris for our friends John & Denise celebrating their 50th birthdays! They are getting old and I am one of the babies of the group. Good to see the gang growing old disgracefully – long may it continue.

The NHR gang do Paris in the Spring!

Low Points

Seeing Nick Hammond and Nick Lewis leave Castle College – both loyal clients over 17 years, but also really nice people & people I regard as friends. I do expect both of them to make returns in 2010!

Nick Hammond in LA (on the right.. in case you wondered)

And that’s it. I wonder what 2010 will bring – hopefully the same split again – or preferably no low points. But already things to look forward to – Minsk in January?, Skiing in February, MIPIM in March and at some point New York (again). I have also agreed to help the Bromley House Library look at the possibility of building an extension / upgrading the wonderful facilities they have!

Lots to look forward to then…. Happy New Year!!

A right mess at Trinity Square Nottingham

I wrote a previous blog about Planning in Nottingham and the changes about to be put in place.

The front part of Trinity Square!

But a new development has taken place – both the leader of the Council, Jon Collins and the developer, Bob Monk have both broken cover to say how they dislike the Trinity Square scheme in Nottingham. It was completed in the summer, but is not yet fully let.

I have to say that the rear part of it – facing the Cornerhouse – is pretty awful. Once again, we have been sucked into fashionable architectural features. This time a ‘square’. But did we need a square in this location? We have plenty of open space outside the Council House! Part of our history and uniqueness is in the myriad of passages and alleyways around the town, but we seem to have become obsessed with ‘squares’. The relatively weak market hasn’t helped with the vacant shops still boarded up. When the development was started I guess that there was a confidence around the scheme.

And the not so pretty back bit!

Bob Monk complains about design by committee and this is what has happened previously in Nottingham; it happened on the Castle College Maid Marian Way scheme (where I was directly involved). Unfortunately despite many meetings that you have with officers on a major scheme – the actual decisions are made by Politicians. Despite the fact that Planning should be decided on Planning Grounds – the decisions can be politically motivated.

The other major issue is that there is a disconnect between the commercial reality and the planning system. Major applications take too long – as has been seen here the market has completely changed during the build period. Unfortunately the ‘process’ is slow and unresponsive. At Castle College it took 18 months from our initial approach to actually getting a resolution to grant consent (in technical terms this is not actually planning permission! – there is still work to do).

Bob Monk would have spent a considerable sum by the time he got consent (even the compromised one). It is likely that the market was moving away and he had little choice than to press the ‘go’ button on the scheme – even though he had concerns.

Many years ago I was told not to go to a Planning Committee meeting by a well respected Planning Consultant. I went anyway – and was appalled to hear some of the wildly inaccurate comments made (it wasn’t the City on this occasion). My frustration was that you have no right of reply. Some of the comments were just political drivel.

But what we need to do here is support the work Jennifer Dearing is doing to improve the Planning system in Nottingham. Councillors on the Committee have their part to play too. The impression I have is that there is a realisation that it needs to change – we have had a few years in the wilderness without a Chief Planning Officer. That has not helped.

And in the meantime – if someone does have a good idea to improve Trinity Square I think Bob Monk and Jon Collins might like to hear from you! Just in case you wondered – a tennis court isn’t a good idea …

Spring Cleaning (early)

Today was not one I was looking forward to. I had agreed with my PA that we would have a clear out of filing – in readiness for 2010! It was suggested that I was a magpie – but I like to think that I can put my hand on papers / files quickly. Alas they are going to secure storage …

The files for archiving (you can't see the ones on the floor!)

I would love us to have a paperless office – and it is something we are looking into. In fact we do a lot of our correspondence by email. Earlier today my mate at Purple Circle – John Lyle blogged about writing letters. He was advocating their use. I am actually in agreement as I think they do have a place, but as I blogged about before we do need to sort our postal system! My Christmas Card episode and the Postal Strike do put me off.

But what is really worrying is the amount of paper we use! Our photocopiers have counters on – and were at 524,000 copies last year. That is a frightening amount of paper! Not to mention toner and electricity – or files to put the stuff in!

You can also see where it all goes – into files. We need to keep files for our professional records, but there has to be a better way. Lawyers have a case management system; I spoke to one before Christmas and she has no paper at all! I think surveyors need the same, although I am not sure I could read a lease on a screen – plans are also an issue.

It would also be great if you could somehow ‘manage’ email threads – so that you didn’t re-print pages of the same emails. Now that would be clever – if someone could invent it?

In the meantime – we have some space in the cabinets in readiness for filling up next year! I will have to plant a tree (or two).

By Tim Garratt Posted in Business, Green stuff Tagged filing, paperless office, Postal Strike, Writing

Never wrestle a pig….

I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty and tired whereas the pig likes it“. The quote has been attributed to many people – George Bernard Shaw, Cyrus Ching and Creighton Abrams.

Pig looking forward to a fight...

I had forgotten it until a few days ago – when I got into a ‘discussion’ with an anonymous ‘reader’ of the Nottingham Evening Post – on-line version. You can read the exchange here. It was about the story I blogged about a few days ago – an opportunity to work in Minsk.

I was slightly disappointed that readers could be so negative and prejudiced about a potentially positive story for Nottingham. Their ‘beef’ was that this was a ‘jolly’ or that there was some ‘communist connection’. I had tried to point out some facts – but quickly realised that their views were pretty much ingrained and unlikely to alter. That some of the comments are wildly inaccurate is just frustrating – trying to explain is really a waste of time.

I think the idea of social media is really exciting (hence my blog, twitter etc.) – and it is great that we can get a story validated / commented upon in real time. But the art is sifting the drivel and prejudice from the fact or interesting viewpoint.

Most of the argument was with B J Mann who starts most of his comments with “Errrrrrrrrrmmmmmmm”! He wants to see me in Court as I have something to hide about how my trip will be funded. For some reason he thinks he is paying for me. As I act for some public sector organisations he pays….That’s a bit like me asking the Police not to stop me for speeding as I pay their wages. His arguments ran out when he finished his rant explaining that he licked cows bottoms – the comment has since been moderated (i.e. removed).

Someone called ‘M’ in Gedling said – “i wonder which council freeloaders will be going on this jolly ? i bet the mayor will , and he will probably come back and ask the EP readers for advice just like the usa jaunt“. As far as I can see there are no Councillors going on the trip to Minsk. It was the Sheriff who went to the USA – not the Mayor. Asking for ideas on our return was to include as many ideas as possible – damned if you do and damned if you don’t?

If you get into a discussion – as I did – there is a point that you need to realise that you are fighting a pig (metaphorically speaking) – and gently retire to a safe distance! Preferably before you get tired and dirty…

Note to self – don’t waste you time in future!

Grumpy old Xmas rant

I decided not to have a rant yesterday – trying to keep the whole Christmas thing uplifting and cheerful. It was a great day.

paying the penalty for the wrong stamp

My rant was formulated the day before – when we had a card posted through the letter box telling us that there was a delivery for collection at the Post Office. So off we dutifully set – to collect a Christmas Card. It cost me £1.17 to collect. The card cost 99p – it said so on the back.

I had thought it was because there was no stamp – but not so, there was a second class stamp. The reason – the card was oversize – so the 17p was to make up for the shortfall – £1 for administration. No account of my time in collecting the card (or driving there!) And what of handling all those £1.17′s?

The world really has gone mad – the friendly postie did tell me that he had 200 cards to write (collecting £1.17 each time). Of course these were yet to be delivered…

My grumpiness is that people have innocently bought cards and put stamps on – only to be caught out by the new (stupid) rules about letter sizes.

My firm this year did not send cards through the post – we paid for a card to be made electronically with a game and sent it to 4,000 people. We would have perhaps sent 3,000 cards previously! I blogged before about the Postal Strike and my dim view of it. The card companies also ought to take note of the new rules too – I am sure many people have bought cards not realising that they are larger than the maximum size for the basic cost.

One of my resolutions for the new year is to use the post less. And the reason is the inconvenience that it now puts me to. A shame but true.

Looking forward to 2010…

Although everyone (me included) be looking back on 2009 with their blogs I also wondered what 2010 might bring.

Will commercial property values hold up in 2010

In simple terms I am not sure that much is going to change; indeed most of my fellow competitor surveyors have suggested that their budgets remain as 2009.

Certainly the banking situation seems to be fairly static. The known fact is that most people with commercial property loans are probably in technical breach of their banking covenants – usually the ‘loan to value’ test (“LTV”). This is principally because the value of the property has dropped – even when the loan remains the same. But the Banks have been turning a blind eye to this – provided interest is being paid. Of course the situation may change as business and cashflow gets tougher. If interest payments are missed there may be a different view taken and we could have repossession taking place – to date this has been limited.

In 2007 there were estimated to be 400 loans defaulted (worth £758m) – in 2008 this had increased to 3000 loans (£3.1bn). But at the end of 2008 it was estimated that there was between £38-50bn of property in negative equity! Total debt is around £225bn.

But the big unknown for 2010 is the General Election – likely to be in early May. I think the Tories will win; but I am not so sure that it will be easy. But when they get into Downing Street I suspect the cupboard may well be somewhat bare. If this is the case, they may as well get all of the bad news out quickly, so that they can blame Brown and have a chance of recovery before the next election? If this is the case, it could be the Public sector that gets hit quite hard. The other effect may be that people will sit on their hands – waiting to see what happens.

I was in Leeds in November and there was a glimmer of good news at the Granary Wharf development by ISIS. They were selling properties – and quite number. This really was a sign that the tends were being bucked. And looking at the lack of shops ‘in sale’ over the least few weeks (and the state of car parks in towns) perhaps the retailers will have a better Christmas… November sales figures were 3.1% higher than the previous November. Interestingly the retailers will start their online sales earlier this year apparently!

I guess it will be the usual tale – we won’t really know until this time next year! But – fingers crossed!

Happy Christmas!

By Tim Garratt Posted in Nottingham Tagged Bank loans, Conservatives. General Election, Gordon Brown, LTV,

Robin Hood – an update on Nottingham’s World Class Attraction

I blogged before about the findings of our trip to the USA when I attempted to distill what made a world class attraction into 17 words. I chose the theme on the back of a Daniel Libeskind talk. This was always going to be a challenge – and my colleague Nick Hammond has been speaking to many of the stakeholders on the Sheriff’s Commission.

The High Line New York - a world class attraction

I was delighted last week when he told me we had some more words to add to the list! And these are:


I agree with the inclusion of all of these words – they should help inform the Commission and the shape of a new attraction. We are trying to keep the message simple for the specification of the new attraction – whatever it might be!

With the news last week that Nottingham had won the right to hold some of the qualifying matches for the World Cup 2018 (assuming England win their bid!) this gives us some real focus. It was always assumed that the attraction would take a number of years – but 2018 is within sight and is probably realistic.

In the meantime though, there are some things we would like to try and achieve – these might include a Medieval Market, a Mayflower project, A Robin Hood Trail (we are aware that one already exists) and possibly a Volunteer bureau. We also need to capitalise on the new Ridley Scott directed Robin Hood film – due for a release in May 2010. This will certainly reinvigorate the story of Robin Hood…

I look forward to the Commission Advisory Panel meetings in 2010!

An interesting opportunity in Russia for 2010?

I have been invited to join a delegation to Minsk in Belarus in late January 2010. Nottingham has been twinned with Minsk since 1957. It sounds a really interesting opportunity…

The skating rink at Minsk - courtesy Oleg Babinets

Minsk have some amazing proposals to create a new ‘residential compound’ which is the called Nottingham! They are looking to build housing for 21,000 residents, schools, healthcare facilities, shops, and offices. By all accounts this looks impressive!

Their masterplan document sets out their rationale, “Nottingham is associated with British traditions, featuring stability, respectful attitude to the history of the homeland, high levels of public socialisation and strive for living in harmony with the environment”. Some of the themes might be lost a little in translation – but they clearly have respect for our history.

What is really interesting (and a suggestion from Mark Hobson at Mabers) is that Nottingham may put together a team who can collaborate on providing Minsk with building expertise. I think this is a really good idea – we have an enormous amount of expertise locally and are used to working together. But this suggestion may try to go further than this – actually creating a consortium. The consortium looks likely to include Agents, Architects, Engineers, QS’s and Investors. It may also include some of our education establishments (Colleges and Universities).

GDP growth in Belarus has been just shy of 10% year on year. They also have a large manufacturing base – Minsk Tractor Plant employ 30,000 people – by comparison Raleigh in Nottingham employed 7,000 at its height of production in the 1960′s.

The first trip does coincide with their rather cold snap – the record low in January is -39 C. And in the light of the timescale I am not sure my Russian is going to be much further along! It is interesting to note that 73.7% of schoolchildren there are learning English.

There is another interesting connection – on 29th May in each year they celebrate Spring Day – when they have fairs and celebrate the capture of Robin Hood! I must confess to not knowing that! But another connection to Robin Hood for the City!

Our first job might be to find a Russian word to replace ‘compound’…


I have decided, in consultation with my fellow Directors not to go on this delegation to Minsk. This is partly due to pressures on my diary, but also that we have been offered a similar opportunity in Krasnador. The latter town is likely to enter a strategic PArtnership with Nottingham in March. We are keen to offer our expertise to Minsk and will monitor the opportunity. I am really keen to see if we can become part of a Nottingham Consortium of Consultants. Such collaborative working is starting to look like how the world will operate in the next decade?

My Dad would have been 80 today – how the world has changed!

My dad, Eric George Garratt, died 19 years ago next January – and today would have been his 80th Birthday. It only seems like yesterday when I raced an ambulance down the Nottingham ring road. Unfortunately he didn’t survive his second heart attack. He was 61 – and perhaps had life cut short by a stressful job and, perhaps, years of smoking – although he had given up years earlier.

My dads grandchildren....

His view on life was that quality was more important than quantity – but I can’t help but wonder if in those few seconds before the lights go out whether he would have changed his mind…

As I thought about him today – I was musing on how the world has changed in those 19 years.

Firstly, he never met our son Jack – who was born in 1993. Jade and Adam were 3 and 15 months respectively. My sisters kids (Georgia, Isabel & Finlay) weren’t born either.

and the other three grandchildren

Then the technology – this blog thing for starters. The internet had technically been around for some time – but probably didn’t get off the ground until around 1994. Google was founded in 1998! Facebook in 2004 and Twitter in 2006.

Mobile phones did exist in 1991, but the first person to person text was not sent until 1993! I had a ‘brick phone‘ in 1992! It was brilliant! It fitted in my Rover 216 efi between the seat and the handbrake in a really cool way!

In 1991, Kodak released the first professional digital camera system (DCS), aimed at photojournalists. It was a Nikon F-3 camera equipped by Kodak with a 1.3 megapixel sensor. To think we now have cameras in phones with better resolution!

So the world really has changed; I am not sure what my dad would have thought about the technology – his life at the office was reliant on the Telex machine. What seems odd to me is that my firm shared a fax machine with Freeth Cartwright Solicitors in 1991 – and fax is more or less obsolete now! He would have been impressed with HDTV – Sky TV merged with BSB two months before he died!

It really is amazing to think of all of these changes in less than 20 years. I wonder what the next 20 will bring?

I still miss my Dad – I think he would be really proud of us all – especially the six grandchildren (only two of who he met). And part of me thinks he would have quite liked some of this new fangled technology – as he would have said! But I am not sure he would have been a blogger…

Happy Birthday Dad!

My favourite building this year!

As I have blogged about before, I went this year to the USA with the Sheriff of Nottingham to look at World class attractions – in the anticipation that we could transfer some ideas back to Nottingham with a Robin Hood theme. When I looked through the thousands of images I took in the year I wondered what was my favourite building in the year. And the winner was – The Experience Music Project / SciFi Museum in Seattle.

The experience music project - Seattle

The building split the group of us – a marmite moment!

Exterior facade of EMP - Seattle

I loved it.

EMP Seattle - Ghery architecture at its best!

It was designed by Canadian architect Frank Ghery He said “I wanted to evoke the Rock’n’Roll experience without being too literal about it”. His client was Paul Allen (of Microsoft fame). Ghery was the first person to use a computer modeling system called CATIA – which was used in the aerospace industry. As he said – “we did a building by computer for a computer guy”!

400 tons of steel was used – on top of which are laid 21,000 aluminum and stainless steel shingles. At the heart of the centre is the Sky Church – with a 70 ft high ceiling and the worlds largest LED screen it is an amazing place.

I think it is where art and architecture merge. It is challenging – the colours are amazing. And the wow factor is high! We had mixed views about what was inside the building – but that doesn’t take away from the building itself!

It was my favourite building in 2009. By a country mile!