Rebalancing the regions: How cities can help drive investment

The Gherkin in 2006: more than a decade on, London still dominates the UK commercial property market. Image: Getty.


In this sponsored post, the head of housing delivery and strategy at Capita Real Estate & Infrastructure talks about rebalancing Britain’s economy.

Attracting capital investment is vital to local authorities. City and regional authorities strive to create places where people want to live and work, and they cannot do this alone without commercial property investment.

With devolution and city deals being finalised, councils are looking to attract investors aligned with their values to help stimulate economic growth, and create new jobs and homes.

And yet new research has again revealed that, outside of London, places with the potential for enormous growth are still struggling to generate the levels of investment they need to be able to build communities for the future.

Centre for Cities and Capita have revealed more than half of all investment in Britain’s commercial property market – worth more than £43bn – was spent in London. This was significantly more than the South East, the second most successful region, which secured just under £5bn of investment, equivalent to 11 per cent of the total share across Britain.

The North East and Wales gained less than £1bn of commercial property investment each last year, with Wales attracting just 1 per cent of the total share of investment across Britain, the smallest amount of any region.

So, what can local authorities do to ensure they are attracting the level of investment necessary to meet the needs of their communities, both now and into the future?

Local authorities want to develop their understanding of what motivates investors and developers, allowing councils to unlock value in their region to stimulate economic growth.

And our report has highlighted five key characteristics investors say they are looking for: a strong economy with growth potential; excellent transport links; a pro-investment leadership; a strong focus and record on delivery; and a distinctive reputation which draws on the history or culture of a city.

While these characteristics may already be clear to city authorities, what is often less clear-cut is how to go about developing these favoured traits to get the attention of potential investors.

The report sets out the following roadmap for authorities:

  • Deploy the right resources: seek expert investment advice;
  • Know your product and audience: understand strengths and weaknesses;
  • Build networks to sell your product: investment industry is built on relationships and who you know is important;
  • Close the deal: Make it easy for investors to consider your opportunities by providing detailed information about each one.

Many cities around the UK are already making great strides in securing significant outside investment. Two examples, Blackburn with Darwen Council and Southampton City Council, have both been working with Capita for a number of years to help create better places for their communities.

Blackburn worked hard to attract investors and its new place based partnership with Capita, launched just a year ago on the back of 15 years of successful partnership, is all about promoting growth and being developer-friendly.

Through innovative shared management arrangements, the authority has gone from being a housing market renewal area with more demolition than growth, from net growth of only 17 houses a couple of years ago to now 460 on site with planning permission for 1,200. Meanwhile the regeneration of the bus station and Cathedral Quarter has resulted in a much more attractive city centre for visitors and residents alike and has contributed to it being a winner in the Great British High Street awards in the ‘Town Centre’ category in 2016.

Southampton’s approach to attracting investment has shifted from a laissez-faire approach, to proactively seeking investors and strategically planning the exact developments required to achieve the city’s vision. This approach has secured £2bn of city centre investment. 

The city has focused on raising the profile of the city amongst investors and agents, while its Masterplan has provided investors with certainty over the city’s future evolution.

While our research has revealed there is still a significant disparity in levels of investment around the UK, it’s clear that investors are ready to commit to cities given the right set of circumstances. Local authorities and city leaders up and down the country are working hard to deliver innovative investment for the future.

You can read the report here.

Deborah McLaughlin is head of housing delivery and strategy, Capita Real Estate & Infrastructure.


How the big freeze of 1962-3 killed off Britain’s canals

Little Venice, London. This was actually 2010, but you get the idea. Image: Getty.

The English are internationally renowned for banging on about the weather. When British drizzle is compared to the hurricanes of the Caribbean or the cold faced by more landlocked countries, our complaining seems wholly unjustified.

Still, our weather can have ruinous effects on whole industries. The particularly cold winter of 1962-63 was the final nail in the coffin of a centuries old water-borne trade.

At one time canals played an essential role in the UK’s economy. In the early days of the industrial revolution, canals snaked across the map, connecting the coal mines of the countryside to the factories of cities. They fuelled the furnaces and kept the hearth fires burning, allowing for cities to rapidly grow in the closing years of the 18th century.

A map of British and Irish waterways. The canal network is in orange. Image: Peter Eastern/Wikimedia Commons.

Economics is rarely sentimental, though, and when more effective modes of travel came along the canals began their slow demise. Whereas European canals widened to accommodate for ever larger boats, the thin British canals –bar the mighty Manchester ship canal – slowly gave in to the supremacy of those new-fangled trains.

The rise of railway also saw the odd canal being bought and shut down by railway companies. In most cases this was simply about eliminating the competition, but in some the straight canals proved a perfect place for new railway tracks – the fate of South London’s Croydon Canal.

Still, the bargepeoples tightened their belts, and the canal system limped on as a viable option for freight until the early ‘60s, when nature came in with the knockout blow. The Big Freeze of 1962-3 was, as the name suggests, uniquely cold for the UK. Records going back as far as 1659 only recorded two winters colder, and the canal system froze solid.

Somerset, January 1963. The snow stayed for so long it stretched phone wires out of shape. Image: Howard Dublin/Wikimedia Commons.

Facing months of no service by barges, industries that had been reliant on the canals switched to alternatives on the rail and road networks. When the ice finally thawed, and with grim memories of that winter on mind, few returned to using the canals for freight. Besides having dire consequences for that years football calendar, the winter mostly finished canals as a component of British industry.

Luckily many of the canals themselves survived to be repurposed, first for leisure and more recently for living. London’s canal system currently holds around 5000 boats, 60 per cent of them permanent homes. These liveaboards, driven there by the desire for the slow life or the rest of the city’s crippling property prices, are changing the face of London’s waterways.
The water dwellers, along with those drawn to these lateral parks for leisure, have brought business back to the city’s canals. Now books shops, grocers, coffee shops and even bakeries can be found floating on the waters.

So next time the trope of the weather obsessed Brit comes up, you can scoff at other countries hailstones the size of Chihuahuas, or sun you can cook an egg in. Tell them that the weather has shaped British history, too – and with huge climatic shifts on the horizon, it shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook