Birmingham - No longer knowingly undersold
Birmingham is on the up. Stepping out of New Street station, it’s clear that the City is very much alive, with the bustle of regeneration and an unmistakable sense of pride in the air. Our heartland is no longer easy prey for outsiders’ jokes; the sky is very much the limit.
However, as many Brummies know, our region has not had it easy. From our long-standing housing shortage and homelessness issues to the more recent bin workers’ strike, this is a city that has been beset with challenges. So much so, that the City’s former director of planning and regeneration once famously observed that Birmingham had lost its “swagger”.
So, what’s changed? CBRE’s Our Cities has pinpointed the factors behind city success as governance, innovation and culture. While governance can be imposed with order; and innovation encouraged through strategic investment and incubation; culture is more dependent on its inherency in a city’s DNA. And this is where Birmingham has an edge on its urban peers: our values and inclusivity have kept the City standing throughout adversity – and our culture brings these to life. One of the most diverse cities in Europe and the UK’s most populous outside London, Birmingham has a certain something that can’t be replicated from scratch.
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street knows this all too well, working hard since being elected in May 2017 to tighten governance, join the dots and put the foundations we need to maximise our potential in place. And the string of business and investor endorsements we have seen of late are testament to the City’s success, and its potential for the future.
It’s hard to think that just three years ago, the old Birmingham Central Library was still very much intact. So much has changed since demolition of the imposing seventies structure began in November 2015: the boundaries of our central business district have flexed to accommodate an exciting mix of long-established names and new entrants, and created an easier right of access across the City. The Library left a long-forgotten vista in its wake, made up of a blend of contemporary and historical structures that exude our heritage and determination to embrace the future. The much-debated Paradise development has injected a renewed sense of community within Birmingham’s professional quarter, with the sum of our parts creating a very powerful force indeed.
And individually, the calibre of our businesses is impressive. International names have consistently deepened their foundations here, and the decision to headquarter HS2 in Snowhill was a clear nod to the City’s promise for the future.
As Birmingham becomes the first ever city to benefit from 5G, the allure of this urban powerhouse is substantiated even more.
Birmingham’s new tempo beats defiantly, well after these firms have shut up shop each night. The City’s hospitality scene has never had it so good: a string of high-end bars and restaurants have opened their doors over recent years, with this new wave of professionals firmly in their sights. And as Birmingham proudly retains its crown as the youngest city in Europe, this is clearly working.
The City’s rise is not incidental. Birmingham is the largest local authority outside of London, which has had a number of challenges. Our leadership has been changeable, inconsistent and often conflicted in the past, so it is little wonder that we’ve struggled with cost and resourcing constraints and other competing issues. The creation of a combined authority brought with it the autonomy of devolution while the lead of a figurehead with Street’s gravitas has finally given us Westminster’s ear.
Our evolution has been sure and strategic. The Authority’s Industrial Strategy paper sets out the strategic focus and investment required for sustainable long-term growth. And while professional services has stood us in undisputed stead of late, the West Midlands region is poised to make renewed strides in its long-standing areas of specialism, with advances in automotive innovation, battery testing and biomedical science. Then there are the new sectors where Birmingham is making a name for itself, such as creative and design, with the city attracting and nurturing a growing number of gaming and next generation content businesses.
And the culture that has been commended for celebrating and enhancing Birmingham’s outstanding diversity continues to thrive. Our theatres have struck the perfect balance of showcasing home-grown talent and attracting some of the biggest names in showbusiness. The Birmingham Hippodrome alone sold some half a million tickets in 2017, supported up-and-coming talent through its Patrick Studio and touched the lives of countless children and families through its community programmes.
On paper, Birmingham has everything to play for. But geopolitical concerns have cast a shadow on our otherwise bright outlook. Whilst many businesses will be mindful of the effect of a hard Brexit, our city and region may be well placed to take advantage of being less reliant than London on financial services and offering better value for money, while benefitting from significant investment in infrastructure.
Institutional interest in the City continues apace, and the cranes that watch over us are a resounding reminder of investor confidence in the future. A little over an hour from London at present, Birmingham’s business landscape is diverse, our real estate is cheaper and our talent pool extensive. HS2 not only rubber stamps the City’s potential but the added capacity it presents will unlock the benefits of our great city to more businesses, prospective employees and residents than ever before.
We are at the early stages of a renaissance. But for all the efforts and successes of the frontrunners who’ve made Birmingham’s progression their mission, this has been largely enabled by our people, who are known for their positive, ‘can-do’ attitude to life. Add to this the conviction of our growing investor pool and the businesses and people that buy into this vision, and Birmingham is a winning proposition. With curb appeal, sales appeal and investment appeal under our belt, Birmingham’s swagger is firmly back in place - and shows no sign of faltering any time soon.