Rebalancing Act

I had dinner last night at The Hilton Hotel – cooked rather well by students from NCN. Amongst those on the table were Councillor Nick McDonald from Nottingham City Council and Graham Allen MP for Nottingham North.


The topic of conversation was the imbalance in Nottingham between the (relative) well-off South and the poor North. This may be too simplistic a headline – but the geography tells different stories.

Graham’s constituency is seemingly in the lowest 10 in the UK – in terms of teenage pregnancy, unemployment and social deprivation. Some of the constituents are third generation “out of work”.

It is easy to forget that across a large City like Nottingham that there is a wide variance in fortunes. We do tend to forget this when we see the good things (many of which I have blogged about here). There are some areas of desperation.

Graham and Nick are championing how we rebalance the local economy. It is no easy task – the loss of some of the major manufacturing and employers (coal, Raleigh, Imperial Tobacco and others) is still being felt 30 years after some of these changes occurred.

I am not sure that we have easy answers. It is going to take a long time – but ‘education’ was clearly one area where we all felt some change could be made. Getting kids to school and then to College is part of that process. But is also important that we train kids with skills they can use. We need to stop teaching them all ‘Geography’! (Sorry Geography teachers everywhere – you know I don’t mean that literally!). They need Maths and English. And life-skills.

I was blind to the suggestion that some of this generation of kids in some of these communities are not even contemplating ‘work’. That we have to fix.

MIPIM – a sense of deja vu

My colleague Matt Hannah and I were on stand-by for a potential early morning interview on Radio Nottingham yesterday. I wasn’t that keen as it’s always an early start for me – especially as my body is still slightly confused as to the time of day!

Team Nottingham 2014

Team Nottingham 2014

We were told late on Monday that we weren’t required.

You can listen to the piece on Radio Nottingham ‘listen again’ here – but only for the next few days. You need to fast forward to 2 hrs 06 minutes in – just after the 8am news.

MIPIM is a difficult concept for people to understand. And it doesn’t help when you have an introduction that paints Cannes as a famed film festival, sunny, stunning beach resort! A place for a great holiday.

The interview was off to a bad start by Robert Oxley from The Taxpayers Alliance – who trotted out a fairly familiar – ‘waste of public money’ message. A message that remains wide of the mark. And a miserable misunderstanding of what MIPIM is about!

But the worst was still to come – when Andy Whittaker started on Nick McDonald – pushing on detail which really missed the point.

We have asked Radio Nottingham for a chance to put the private sector side of the story – but they have refused. I’m not sure where the balance is there?

But just to clarify:

£80,000 is being contributed by the private sector – £45,000 by Nottingham City Council. £20,000 is coming from Central Government to push our Enterprise zones.

There are four major events – a dinner, a breakfast, a drinks party (funded entirely by the private sector and not included in the budget) and a cricket event with Derek Randall from Notts Cricket Club. There will be other events arranged on an ad-hoc basis from the Team Nottingham base.

The total team is now around 25 people – all with a message to promote Nottingham to developers and investors.

There is an ‘App’ with details of the sites we are promoting. In addition there is a film being made.

It’s a shame Radio Nottingham don’t want to share this information – focusing more on ‘what class of travel’ are the councillors travelling on!

Wrestling pigs springs to mind?

By the way – it’s not “Cans” – it’s “Canne”. Just saying.

UPDATE 12 Feb 14

There was a right to reply and my client Jackie Sadek spoke on behalf of the private sector on Alan Clifford’s show tonight on Radio Nottingham. You can hear Jackie starting at 1.19.00 here.

Nottingham 2014 – 2034 – the plan


Nottingham is slipping in the retail rankings. Broadmarsh continues to be the major blight on the City. Victoria Centre isn’t befitting City of our size. We have some good things on the horizon in terms of infrastructure (tram, A453, railway station upgrade, ring road improvements and the like). But these only form the ‘glue’ that holds the city together. We need more than that. ‘Content’ is everything!

Fact – we need a plan.

Fact – it needs to go beyond the political election timetable of 5 years.

Fact – we cannot change the City overnight. It is going to take a long time.

Fact – we need to be bold and ambitious.

Fact – it needs to reflect the changes in retail that have already happened! The patient is dead – stop the CPR.

None of this should really be a surprise. But I think we have been complacent in the past. I think we have assumed that we are better than our East Midlands competitors – Derby and Leicester particularly. But they have got better – and they are both good at shouting about it. We sometimes haven’t been. We need to change that.

If Nottingham were a business and was looking for backers it would need a plan – a Business Plan. That plan should set out a strategy and a direction. It should identify the strengths and the weaknesses. It should seize the opportunities and identify the threats. This may sound blindingly obvious – but it wasn’t until Bill Grimsey raised this in his Grimsey Review that it really occurred to me that you could apply those business principles to a City. I have been thinking about it ever since.

Much of the grist of the last paragraph we probably know – but it is disparate and cluttered. Every time we set off for MIPIM (to promote the City) we struggle with a single coherent message. We have lots of messages. Some are vanilla flavoured which other cities have. Others are good – but easily get lost in the noise. If I hear ‘open for business’ again I may be driven to violence…

So we need to think about the plan…

And this needs to be a plan owned by all of us. As a collective. And ideally ‘crowdsourced’.

Broadmarsh – any minute now….

So the news is out there – Nottingham City Council are to invest £50m of ‘my’ money into the Broadmarsh Centre. Intu are going to have to find the other two-thirds in this £150m project.

Leader of the Council, Jon Collins said in a statement, “It is in our interests and it is in Intu’s interests for them to get on with it. If Intu wasn’t serious about this, they would not have spent the time and effort they have done working on every last dot and comma of a deal. It has involved many hours of negotiations and I am absolutely convinced of their intent.”

Great news?

Well, sort of. Intu ‘refused to comment’ on the story. Cynically I cannot begin to imagine why? Surely the story is a great one for the City and for them? Why issue a no comment?

In fairness at the time of the announcement they were tweeting…

Screen Shot 2013-11-12 at 18.09.32

Says it all really. Penguins.

The Parking Angels?

We know that our fair city doesn’t really love the motorist. In last nights Nottingham Post was a story about the fine-take – which totalled £1.65m last year – with 60,000 tickets issued. That’s not bad for a days work.


Some will say that if you over-stay your allotted time you should pay; others feel that the traffic enforcement chappies are over-zealous. Of course it has two effects – it gives some people a job and – more importantly – it raises revenue for our cash-strapped Council – although they argue that any cash left over after costs is ploughed back into ‘better parking facilities, improved public transport or more facilities for pedestrians and cyclists’. Hear, hear.

Lets face it – the fine is just part of the risk you take in coming into the city – along with bus lane and speed cameras.

But I heard a great story last week from a good friend. He was walking along High Pavement and noticed a traffic warden (he used a slightly different terminology for the man in the uniform) about to start the process of putting a penalty Charge Notice on a car – the ticket in the windscreen was out of time. So he bought a ticket for £2 and extended the time by an hour. The little man was perplexed – but my friend suggested that this was his good deed for the day. Honourable and rewarding?

Well it certainly was – a week later he rushed back to his car – having been held up in a meeting – 20 minutes after his ticked had expired. And someone had returned the favour!

So, the parking angels are at work and I encourage people to do a good deed if they see an Attendant about to slap a £35 ticket on a car – buy them 30 minutes (usually a pound) … you never know one day it may be you in need…

Nottingham hates cars part 2 (or 3?)

Last week I blogged about our silly parking restrictions around the station and concluded that the City must really hate car drivers.

camera cash

But I wonder if I got it all wrong?

The reason is that we also have bus lanes a go-go in the City. Many were introduced with a fanfare that we were getting ‘NEW LANES’, except what they meant was ‘NEW BUS LANES’ and ‘LESS CAR LANES’. QED.

They are perplexing as some are 24 hours and some are restricted on a sort of kitchen timer thing.

In fact they are so perplexing that the City trousers £1m each year from the fines. You can read the whole story here in my local papers on-line edition.

On my way home there is a bus lane – which operates Monday to Friday 4pm to 6pm. And this includes Bank Holidays. It also includes those days between Christmas and New Year when you lose track of the days. There are no buds in sight and, as you guessed it, I found out that the cameras do work – even in torrential rain. I’m pleased to have been able to contribute to the running of the place I call ‘home’.

I wouldn’t mind but in the morning the buses race each other to pick up the next passengers. And they come in my CAR LANE. I bet they don’t get fined?

Perhaps my title is wrong – I think Nottingham loves cars. We love you paying high parking charges and getting caught in bus lanes… It helps balance the books!

Nottingham Transport – part two

We are having a major facelift at Nottingham Station – it will provide a new transport hub – with a tram bridge over the station. Forget that this is the ugliest bridge in the world – the connectivity is important.


The Station has been in a bit of a mess for the last 18 months or so, we have a new disconnected car park (read my blog here) and the front of the station is boarded up. Temporarily the ticket office is in a portakabin on Station Street – opposite the Council offices.

But the real fun starts when Nottingham Station gets properly closed for around 6 weeks from mid-July. This is so the track can be upgraded. If you’re coming from London the closest you’ll get is Beeston.

But last week the Council decided that the route to the station booking office should be limited to buses and taxi’s only. So we poor car drivers are barred. Helpfully there’s a camera – and they’re not going to fine us for the next couple of weeks – whilst we get used to the idea. Not content with putting this restriction in during the track closure they have started it now and are running it for 18 months?

Why not just shut the station altogether?

The only time I go to Nottingham now is to pick up clients who have travelled up from London. It’s going to make a great impression when I tell them they have to walk around the station (10 mins?) to the new drop off zone.

Joined up thinking? Certainly not. Anti- Car? Yep – sound familiar?

Nottingham – empty shops?

We have ongoing discussions with the Local Data Company and their assertion that 30.6% of our shops are empty. I blogged about it here.


Experian have suggested that the figure is 18.1% – which is probably a closer reflection. The Local Data Company stretch the definition of City Centre to a lot of the outlying suburbs. We have a plan to deal with this and try to properly reflect the position – more on that soon I hope!

What we cannot escape though is that we have too many shops.

Vacant shops don’t help Cities. They create gappy teeth in a street scene and ‘dead frontage’ (as it is known) is not at all good. It takes a few in a row to bring a whole area down.

So we have a few choices – we can either take the shops out of use (and there is some new Planning legislation to do this) and into another use. Or we can try to encourage new shops to spring up. I had a fantastic meeting a few weeks ago with Pop Up Britain – who seek to do this. They put temporary uses into places – often local people selling local goods. Again we hope to have some of these in Nottingham soon.

But there is another initiative launched last week by the City Council – in the form of grant aid to bring ‘out of repair’ shops back to a lettable standard.

The Vacant Shops Grant will be available to Landlords of up to £5,000 to improve the condition a shop.

This is a great idea – and a really positive step to take.

Nottingham Castle – backwards we go?

There was disappointing news for Nottingham last week.


Our Heritage Lottery bid to upgrade the Castle failed. We were seeking nearly £15 towards the estimated £26m cost. Six out of 11 projects were successful in sharing £68m:

* Silverstone, home of British motor racing in Northamptonshire
* HMS Caroline, the last surviving warship of the First World War fleet, in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter
* Redruth’s old brewery transformed to celebrate Cornish heritage
* London’s Alexandra Palace – ‘The People’s Palace’ – with over 140 years worth of history
* 12th-century Auckland Castle in Durham, home to a spectacular collection of Zurbaran paintings
* Aberdeen Art Gallery and Cowdray Hall, the city’s public gallery with an impressive collection of early and contemporary works

We now have to wait another 12 months to re-submit.

You may know that I sat on the Sheriffs Commission back in 2008/9. Five years ago we were pressing for the Council to bring on board the private sector, that looks even more necessary now.

I was a little underwhelmed last year when I saw the plans for the first time. In fact, I blogged about it here.

We really need to aim higher and in my opinion we need to bring a different game to Nottingham. There is such an opportunity here – Robin Hood is a world brand and we just don’t use it. Five years have passed since we looked at some of the options. Lets not wait another five years!

In the meantime my good friend Johnny Lyle sent me a link about a theme park that looks like it might go ahead in Sherwood Forest. Pity they didn’t put that in the Castle?

The City Message?

At MIPIM this year what struck me more than anything was how mixed the Nottingham message is. I suspect we are trying to be all things to all men and in a very crowded market-place this is not enough to differentiate ourselves.

Another unique feature for the city

Another unique feature for the city

We have in this fair city some amazing assets. We have some really good things in the pipeline around infrastructure (trams and trains in particular). But I’m not sure we have a clear message, a clear story or a coherent offer.

We need to make sure we become known for something other than the tram.

I have been thinking about this and I think the answer is either in ‘education’ or the ‘creative quarter’.

Our two Universities and two colleges (shortly to become three) are leading in the their class. Education is key to our future growth – it develops the best talent and, if we can keep the graduates or leavers here they can develop and grow. Although these are really good for the City they still don’t differentiate us.

But the creative quarter could. This is a group of talented individuals who work in that sector that is as big or small as you want it. It ranges from textile makers to TV programme makers. From Artists to Gamers. This does differentiate us. I think the answer is that we should really embrace the creative quarter and all who sial in her. We should make sure they get the support from the City they need – and we should shout from the roof tops about them.

The best talk I attended at MIPIM this year was that of Brian Cox. This was not a man who spoke about a place being open for business, but rather a man who spoke passionately about his area of interest – physics. He tied in the story of his life with the city he lives and works in – Manchester.

We need a Brian Cox character – and I’m sure there are lots of them.