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Why the future's looking brighter in Birmingham

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A guest briefing from Construction News associate editor Damon Schünmann

On the day Birmingham’s independent improvement panel announced it was withdrawing from the city after four years, Damon Schünmann associate editor at LGC’s sister title Construction News explains why things are looking up for the city from an investment and development perspective.  

Let’s just be clear on something: I love Birmingham.

Having lived there for some of the best years of my life, I feel well equipped to say it’s a city with a lot going for it, especially the generally well-balanced, live-and-let-live attitude among its multi-cultured populace and their effervescent sense of humour.

One of the things the city hasn’t enjoyed, though, is adequate investment in its civil and social infrastructure.

One small and subjective illustration is that, whenever I go back (at least once a year for the past two decades), it appears to me that its visible homelessness problem is getting worse – and at a pace that seems to outstrip other cities I regularly visit.

So it was with some delight at this year’s MIPIM event that, when I asked business figures the question “Where are the regional hotspots on your radar?”, almost everyone said something different from last year or the year before.

“London and the South-east, of course,” they’ve invariably said, with some adding Manchester or Cambridge and such, as might be expected.

But pretty much all of them have added “oh, Birmingham and the broader West Midlands”, with almost surprised self-recognition that they haven’t found themselves saying it before.

And this continual stream of unprompted responses came from everyone from major investors to consultants, developers and lawyers. 

No coincidence, then, that the mayor of the West Midlands Combined Authority, Andy Street, launched £10bn of investment opportunities ranging from infrastructure and regeneration to residential, as the sun shone down at Cannes’ international property exposition.

This included 24 schemes that consisted of a £2bn High Speed 2 interchange, a mixed-use project in Coventry, a major urban development in Solihull and an £800m initiative for Dudley’s business and innovation enterprise zone.

All areas I know well, and all areas that will hugely benefit from this kind of investment in ways that wouldn’t be nearly as noticeable in my home city (sorry London, but you’re often first in the queue for investment love).

Now, I’m not trying to paint a picture where the West Midlands goes skipping off over the hills to a bright and perfect future. But in the 15 years I’ve been writing about the UK’s built environment, it’s the first time I’ve sensed pan-sector agreement that the region looks to be in for some really significant sunshine of its own.

And if the planners and major stakeholders can get their heads together and not just focus on the dollars, then who knows, perhaps the homeless of the region might just vicariously benefit from some of that brighter weather.

Damon Schünmann, associate editor, Construction News

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