Phil Harrison, Managing Director for Wates Construction Midlands and North

Member Article

Unlocking the East Midlands development opportunity

Addressing East Midlands Local Authority officers at Scape’s recent Heads of Property meeting in Nottingham, Phil Harrison, Managing Director, Wates Construction Midlands & North, sets the current asset and construction market in context for the public sector in the East Midlands.

“The East Midlands has plenty to celebrate in terms of property development. Construction output in the region rose 14 per cent between 2013 and 2014 and RICS recently reported an increased demand for industrial space, which will undoubtedly spur speculative building in the East Midlands. Furthermore, the East Midlands Chamber of Commerce has seen an increase in business confidence in the first quarter of this year and a subsequent surge in investment plans. So there’s a definite feeling of optimism and buoyancy. However, our industry mustn’t take its eye off driving sustainable growth, ensuring that we focus on the long-term future of the region and ultimately safeguard a thriving property sector for the next generation.

“It is perhaps obvious, but in order to drive progress the onus needs to be on how the region can work in partnership to maximise its investment potential. Take for example Sir Howard Bernstein’s vision for a unified North West (and North for that matter), the West Midlands’ ‘Greater Birmingham’ and the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ that our new Conservative Government is expected to take forward, all of which apply partnership working to achieve economic growth. Their potential successes aside, the West Midlands and the North West both have dominant forces at play, creating a model whereby a region’s development is driven by a ‘core’ city. This presents an important question. What can be achieved in terms of development and growth if a region’s cities join forces on an equal footing? It’s this balance of power that is the trump card for the East Midlands.

“MIPIM saw the launch of a brand new regional approach for the East Midlands; the ‘Power of 3’ – a move by Derby, Nottingham and Leicester to come together to showcase their regional investment potential, underpinned by East Midlands Airport. This is exactly the collaborative strategy that will substantially boost the prospects of the region and help build momentum for inward investment. This will be helped further by the impending boost to the region’s connectivity from HS2. Last year’s call for devolved powers to a local level, made by the East Midlands Councils (EMC), also saw the region’s council leaders unanimously demand the transfer of power from Whitehall and justifiably so, if the region is to realise a truly ‘joined up’ future.

“Collaboration however isn’t just limited to the region’s authorities. As we know, many private sector projects receive public funding so the groundwork is already there for collaboration between the private and public sectors. The latest in Scape’s procurement offerings, Scape Venture, will undoubtedly help to facilitate this model of working. We just need to nurture this.

“It is in this spirit of collaboration that education and industry have the opportunity to maximise the region’s prospects. Derby’s high-end manufacturing expertise places it in an advantageous position to be a leading force in addressing central Government’s advanced technology agenda. Projects like Rolls-Royce’s redevelopment of its Derby base further show the region to be on the front foot on that score. But it is the untapped potential in linking the region’s leading manufacturers and its top universities that really interests me. Industry-focused education is high on the national agenda and just this month, engineering skills body, Semta, made a call to the Business Secretary to urgently avert the engineering skills crisis. What’s exciting is that the East Midlands is in a prime position to address this issue if its industry and education join forces, and this would bring the added advantage of encouraging young graduates to remain in this fantastic region.

“When it comes to skills shortages, the construction industry faces its own challenge if we are to become part of the momentum and not the reason that it falters. RICS reported in February this year that 27,000 construction projects could be at risk by 2019 if this issue is not addressed, so the threat is very real. Closely linked to this is the importance of supporting sustainable business growth at all levels of the industry, and crucially this applies to sub-contractors. Appointing a local supply chain, amongst other essential local economic benefits, is quite rightly a commitment that Scape insists upon from its empa framework contractors. This creates a long-term commitment to supply chain partners to promote sustainable growth, giving rise to increased training and people development and resulting in suppliers that are the best in class.

“The East Midlands certainly has a case for achieving great things over the coming years. All of the cogs are in motion and as an industry, we must work together to ensure that they are connected and heading in the same direction. This direction being towards creating the real powerhouse that the region’s authorities seek.”

This was posted in Bdaily's Members' News section by Wates .

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