Lessons from New York …

I know it was a holiday – but I think we can learn so much from New York. It’s a constantly fascinating place that evolves every time you visit.


This time my head was still full of the Grimsey Report; how are we going to change what we do so that we don’t watch the High Street die.

New York has some key differences to us here in the UK. Firstly there’s a lot of bodies. The population of Manhattan is 1.6m – but this nearly doubles on each workday by commuters. 3.1m people all looking for lunch! Then there are the 50m visitors annually. There aren’t Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s. There are multiples (Walmart – who own Boots for example).

But why does it work? I sense several themes:

1. It evolves. It is constantly changing. Shops come and go. They move with fashion. Neighbourhoods change. It’s not unusual to go back to an area and there have been a whole raft of new shops. The proposition that position is fixed seems not to exist in the same way as it does in the UK.

2. It oozes confidence. There aren’t ‘empty shops’ – there are shops waiting for a new tenant to move in and try their hand. There’s a ‘give it a go’ attitude.

3. The indies win. So often you come across a new shop or shops. And they develop a following. The Blue Bottle Coffee shop in Chelsea was superb. And the Dominique Ansel Bakery have invented the CroNut – a cross between a Donut and a Croissant. They queue early. This doesn’t do it for me – by midday they have sold out!

4. Experiment. There is an ‘inventors’ mentality. Try it – at SuperPier they have a heap of the ubiquitous ship containers. Not unique in themselves what was unique was the event programme. Free food (which they had rescued) one night we were there! It was a bit like Re:Fest! Anarchic and chaotic!

5. Make it unique. The Marc Jacobs shop on Bleeker Street were selling T-Shirts for $30 – and they were professionally sprayed for you – with your own message on a number of pre-set designs. They queued (and watched!!)

6. Quality Food. Unlike my meal on the flight over (Mr Branson your Beef cattle had been fed deep fried mars bars methinks), the food in New York is rarely anything other than good. They do eating and drinking well. Eating and drinking is made easy.

These are not the panacea to all of our problems – but there is some much energy in NYC. Arriving back in Nottingham on a damp wet ‘Fall’ day sets the challenge!

Can Apple revive itself?

I blogged about Apple last week – and my concern that they had rather lost their way.


Well fast forward a few days and to a spot nearly 3,500 miles west of Nottingham. I’m in New York for a few days – and the hot news here overnight was that queues had formed around each of the Manhattan Apple stores – people desperate to get hold of the new iphone 5s or the new multi-coloured versions – the latter are quite disgusting! I have no idea how many new phones they shifted – but the people queued all day!

I did wonder about getting an iPhone S but can’t see the point – the current iphone5 I have does what I need. I’m a bit jealous of my son’s Samsung Galaxy s3 – but the iPhone works well enough. The screen is poor at the side of the Samsung though. And the camera isn’t as good. But the apps and seamless integration with the rest of my Apple gear is pretty good.

What I do like is the new IOS – I managed to download it (slowly) before I left Blighty – although it doesn’t offer lots of different functionality – the screen are cleaner and much clearer. I love the new fonts. So we should be grateful for small mercies?

UPDATE 4pm New York time – the queue is still there! They have been queuing all day today…

Can Nottingham rise to the challenge

Bill Grimsey was in town again this week; as one of the speakers at Re:Fest. In fact it was more of a launch (again) of his alternative review of the High Street.


There was an an assembled panel – Grimsey, Chris Shellard, Matthew Hopkinson (the Local Data Company) and Cllr Nick MacDonald from Nottingham City Council. There was an assembled crown too – a mixture of national regeneration specialists and local folks with an interest in the subject.

Grimsey was on sparkling form. He had, of course, used Nottingham for the case study in his review. I was delighted he did this – and I had an opportunity to shape that.

He does acknowledge that it is going to take some time to for us to revive the patient – years perhaps. But we need a plan – a business Plan for the High Street. It needs to have a vision for the next 20/30 years. And everything the City does needs to take account of that plan. It isn’t difficult?

But there are some things we also need to do now. We must lobby this blinkered Government on the Rating Revaluation debacle. We cannot wait until 2017 for the revaluation – it has been put back 2 years. The reason is that business doesn’t like uncertainty. Of course business doesn’t like unfairness either. Rates are based on the 2008 rental values – most of which were set in the boom. They need correcting as values in the south have probably recovered whilst in the north they certainly haven’t. This is a national disgrace and politicians need to be reminded about this at every chance.

But the real message from Grimsey was that Nottingham has a real opportunity here – we have some brilliant assets – but we don’t use them – The Castle, Robin Hood – you know the drill. It doesn’t make sense to build more shops in the Victoria Centre when Broad Marsh is on its knees.

I was pleased that Nick MacDobnald embraced the report – suggesting that we should go to Government and get some cash to start delivering some of the recommendations.

Overall I think it was a positive discussion – we just now need to work out how to drive this forward…

The un-conference

So Re:Fest 13 has come to an end. It was a fairly frantic two days – although it really was the culmination of around 10 days of work.


We managed to ‘transform’ the old theatre building at the Sandfields Centre into a ‘venue’. We have level-ish floors, fire exits, fire extinguishers (courtesy of my friends at Global Fire), furniture (courtesy of my friends at The University of Derby), a tidy car park (Wates) and running – albeit cold – water. Thus we had toilets – and coffee. What we didn’t have was heating – which was a bit of an issue!

The un-conference was intended to be a rail against those conferences you get glossy leaflets for – you pay your £495 for the day – to listen to a panel of ‘experts’ imparting their knowledge to you. Other people pay for the pleasure of exhibiting and then the whole thing is sponsored. It’s a money making machine.

I don’t do them any more – I have noticed that I look at my watch a lot.

Re:Fest was different – partly because of the setting! It was deliberately as un-conference as it could be. We have ‘living room sets’. Comfy chairs, dining tables, cushions. There was little uniformity. Much comment was made about the Sturley-Garratt set of drawers. More like a furniture of curios?

As for the content? Well it was diverse. There were some Powerpoint displays. But there were also lots of plans of the Sandfields development – with black marker pens and plenty of encouragement to draw and participate. This was intended to be a two way process. Post-It notes were all over the walls!

I really enjoyed the two days – and learned a lot. There were some smart people in the room.

Bill Grimsey also spoke – and I’ll reflect on that tomorrow…

Have Apple lost their way?

It pains me to say this – but I think they have.


I am a true Apple Mac fan – from the ipod, iphone, ipad (mini and maxi), macbook air and my work Imac these represent some amazing bits of kit. even Apple TV is rather cool – although it could be better.

But since Steve Jobs died in October 2011 I think the Company has flat-lined. Last weeks big announcement was a bit of a flop. Colourful iphones and ones with faster processors are hardly the ‘one more thing’ moment Jobs became famous for. It was the big reveal. The groundbreaking stuff.

Apple made the best portable music player of all time. The iPhone when it was launched was groundbreaking. The processing power of my MacBook Air is amazing – I can run my office on something the size of an A4 pad of paper.

But where is the Apple TV screen? Where is the watch? Where is the thing we are all going to have to buy because we have to? It’s simply not there.

Jobs was always going to be a hard act to follow. He was a game changer. He surrounded himself with talented people including the incredibly talented Jony Ives. But they needed his direction and single mindedness.

Apple are suggesting that they have an announcement soon – but it needs to be more than ‘better screen resolution’ or ‘faster processing’. It needs to be a game changer!

In the meantime Samsung continue to make a better phone (the Galaxy S4) and have recently announced a watch!

Is it too late for Apple to rescue themselves? Probably not – but they need to act now!

Rip Off Britain? Sacre bleu – try France….

You may know that I have had an involvement in Nottingham’s presence at the property show in the south of France each year for the last three. The show is called MIPIM – and the worlds property folk descend on the Filmic Cannes. We pay for the privilege – and it’s a lot!


Last year our highlight dinner was in the 360 degree restaurant in the Radisson Blu. It is a stunning location – although at nearly £200 a head for dinner – it should be.

In essence you pay for the room privatisation and then for the food. I was pleased to see that the food has remained the same – at e120 per head, drinks similar at e26 per person.

But the room has gone up – a bit. Last year it was e2,000.

This year it is e10,000… a five fold increase!

I did query this with the Hotel and their response (you need to put on a French accent) “That is correct”. That is correct that we like ripping off repeat customers? I’m not sure.

I have two theories. Firstly they have double booked and need to price one party out of the market. The alternative is that they simply have no qualms whatsoever in ripping people off. The price per head now ill go to around £325.

Sacre bleu! And I thought this country was a rip off at times….

Re:Fest 2013 – tomorrow

I have blogged about it before – but we are putting the final preparations to the Re:Fest 2103 event in Nottingham.


In the last week the venue has been transformed form a derelict and abandoned site into something that resembles a film set! We have borrowed sofas, chars, tables and carpets. The walls have been adorned with art – including some photographs from me – and my son! There’s even a love and laughter bar.

Re:Fest is intended to be a non-conformist type of conference. An un-conference if you like. The content is being brought. There’ll be local discussions (about the plans for Lenton) as well as some lessons to be learned from the National stage. In some cases the two are being brought together.

One of the key events is that Bill Grimsey is speaking alongside Cllr Nick McDonald from Nottingham City Council. I’m hoping the City engage with Bill – he enormous energy and a razor sharp mind. More importantly he has a vision for what we should do with our failing High Streets. That should be great fun!

Then on Wednesday the Estates Gazette are holding their local awards at the event.

In between there’s plenty to see. You can read the programme here.

I encourage you to come if you can…

Tokyo misses out – and so does Squash

Tokyo was chosen at the weekend to host the 2020 Olympics – and we were hopeful that Squash would be included for the first time.


Sadly that is not to be. Wrestling had been taken out of the equation by the Olympic Committee but was then reinstated following a huge backlash. So the IOC put three sports into the pot – Wrestling, Squash and a joint bid by softball and baseball. Squash came third in the vote.

We don’t yet have the feedback on the bid – no doubt we’ll see that soon.

Squash has taken on board the feedback we had when we failed to get into the 2016 Olympics.But clearly it wasn’t enough. You’ll know that I am marginally biassed – I see the work our professional players put in – day by day. These are some of the fittest people I know.The game has been likened to physical chess – you need the fitness – but you need a brain too. The mental strength required is huge.

The downside, as I see it (and I listen to a lot of non squash players) is two-fold. Firstly the ‘let’ or ‘stroke’ rules are quite complicated. I play and referee and it can be a tough call sometimes between the two calls. This needs to be looked at.

We also have to find a way of making the games more exciting. Whilst I can appreciate long hard rallies where the players are trying to grind each other down, it can sometimes be seen as boring. So we also need to look at that. During training we often introduce ‘conditions’ to the games (i.e. you can only hit into one corner – or you must kill the ball on the 10th shot). We might need to think about this too.

In the meantime – the sport misses out again. Which is a pity…

Grimsey Reports – on Nottingham!

So the cat is out of the bag!


Last night I was at the launch of the Grimsey Review in the rather grand surroundings of the Churchill Dining Room in the House of Commons.

You may remember that I blogged about Bill Grimsey before; his book is a fascinating insight into the state of our High Streets – perhaps more importantly why they are in a state of terminal decline.

I had the pleasure of showing Bill around Nottingham a few weeks ago and was delighted that he chose Nottingham to be his case study. His visit was orchestrated – to show the good, the bad and the ugly.

We know that we face some challenges – lots of challenges. We have too many shops – that has always been the starting point for us to move forward. It is no different to the alcoholic in acknowledging he has a problem. We have been in denial for years! Time to wake up and shake our pre-conceived, outdated and fatally flawed approach off.

But, despite the challenges, what Bill did see was a City of opportunity.

From his visit he saw:

• a massive investment in infrastructure
• a superb education offer – both at HE and FE level
• A wealth of creative talent
• A science city – with unrivalled history – Boots / Biocity and the like
• An USP – which we have known and heard about before but we fail spectacularly to capitalize on … Robin Hood.

I know that the City Council have seen the report and they are willing to grasp it and run with it. This is a great start.

And I can tell you that Bill Grimsey will be speaking at RE:Fest in a couple of weeks – he is likely to be joined by the Deputy Leader, Graham Chapman and Councillor Nick McDonald from the City. The debate is starting – and soon. My invitation to you to attend is here.

I really do hope that this is the start of a revitalized Nottingham. We have the assets, we need to use them!

Where does the time go?

You might have noticed the blog has been a bit quiet of late. I blame my former assistant – who left me. I haven’t been able to find a replacement just yet.

But I did see this last week which I thought was brilliant.

It wasn’t sent to me – but you have to admire the sheer doggedness of the approach!

I’ll try to resume normal blogging service soon – I’ll have quite a lot to tell you about the Grimsey Report later in the week!