Recently in Planning Category
Transport planner, Phil Jones, has his attention fixed firmly on the quality of the spaces between the housing we develop.
"What is the difference between a street and a road?' Phil asked. 'Would you dance in the road, or dance in the street?"
Last Sunday I chaired a debate at the Town Hall in Birmingham on what an elected mayor might do for the city, which can be seen here.
Over a hundred people attended and the discussion ranged from what business wanted from a mayor, through jobs, transport and education, and to how a mayor could help the inner city and other deprived areas in sharing in the wealth that the city generates.
Much of the discussion through the two panels was about power: what extra powers would a mayor have as compared with the current set up?
This was the message from both the Prime Minister and the Trade Minister Lord Green at a major Summit on exporting held in London last week.
Launching 'Exporting for Growth' in the UK, PM David Cameron, HSBC Chief Executive Brian Robertson and PWC Chair Ian Powell all spoke extremely supportively of boosting the UK's export platform. Nick Baird, UK Trade & Investment's Chief Executive launched some new initiatives including teaming up with founding Dragons' Den panellist Doug Richard and Yell to get 3,500 businesses into workshops all over the country to ensure they are able to exploit the global opportunities offered by the internet.
The PM's message was clear - we need to excel in trade if we are to grow the UK economy at a time when global economies are under huge pressures. The challenge is to get more SME's exporting and to do so, there needs to be greater engagement between the public and private sectors in supporting and developing our exporters.
Here in the West Midlands we have a proud history of international trade. Many of our companies are already doing well in international markets with innovative, cutting edge products - but we need our existing exporters to export more; and more companies to start exporting.
At the Summit there were over 400 representatives from intermediary organisations - banks, lawyers, accountants, consultants, trade associations, Chambers of Commerce, etc discussing how we can do this.
Nationally a number of promising initiatives are already underway such as:
- HSBC has introduced a Business Thinking programme including support for Trade Missions and Mentoring for SME exporters working with UK Trade & Investment.
- Barclays is working with UK Trade & Investment, utilising their customer base and expertise in Sub Saharan Africa to promote exports.
- Lloyds is launching a programme of Export Mentors working with the Manufacturing Technologies Association and UK Trade & Investment.
But this sort of cooperation should not be limited to the "big boys" in London. There is much we can do at the local level. Here in the West Midlands we will be holding our own Exporting for Growth Summit on 28th February for regional SMEs and intermediaries.
In the meantime if anybody has any thoughts or ideas on how UK Trade & Investment in the West Midlands might work more with local partners to help exporters I would be delighted to hear from them!
If you'd like more details of the announcements made at the Exporting for Growth Summit last week, have a look at the website: http://www.ukti.gov.uk/pt_pt/uktihome/media/item/217400.html
The announcement earlier this month of the successful recipients of Regional Growth Fund (RGF) money gave a small but welcome boost to parts of the West Midlands' economy. And the £500 million 'better places fund' might mean almost £15 million coming to the Birmingham LEP to kick start stalled construction projects.
Across England, 119 projects will share some £950 million from the second round of RGF bidding, with the coalition government claiming the projects will create or secure 200,000 jobs, and pull in another £6 billion in private investment. So far, so good, and the RGF projects are to be welcomed and encouraged (and the Birmingham Post in particular desrves praise for seeing that small firms risk being left out, and winning £5 million that it will distribute to such firms).
But the RGF programme -supposedly a centre piece of the government's 'growth strategy - is all so slow. The fact that only 11 government officials in BIS worked on assessing the round 2 bids may have something to do with how long it has all taken.
Earlier today I watched Andy Street on the BBC's Politics Show state that the local LEP was on track to create 100,000 jobs. I wish them well in this ambitious objective.
One way of saving - let alone creating - several thousand jobs is for the LEP, and in particular Birmingham City Council, to recognise that Birmingham Wholesale Markets are a commercially viable economic institution that brings great benefits to the city and the region.
For some background on the Markets, have a look at my last column in The Post which can be found here.
The Markets are one of the largest integrated markets in Europe, and the largest in England (the London markets aren't actually integrated). Its operational model, in particular its close links with the City and Outdoor Retail Markets, has been replicated elsewhere in Europe - indeed it's seen as a benchmark globally.
The Markets comprise 73 traders (7.5% of the national total), with an aggregate turnover of £275 million annually (around 7% of national turnover), employing 1,100 directly on-site (10% of the national labour force) and many more externally - quite how many has been the subject of some debate.
I'd put the total Markets-related jobs figure at around 4000 in my earlier piece, but an interesting piece of work has just been done by Forrest Research which puts the total number of dependent jobs as high as 15,000. That gives the Markets a pretty big local and regional economic footprint.
The Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) came in for some stick recently from the think tank Centre for Cities in a report reviewing the work of the 24 LEPs first approved a year ago.
The report asked whether Coventry's LEP, with its "huge" set of advisory teams including 14 associated focus groups, involving some 160 people, might "add a level of bureaucracy and process that might slow decision-making."
I'm no fan of the decision to abolish the RDAs and replace them with fragmented and resource-lacking LEPs, but feel that this particular criticism is a tad unfair on this particular LEP. Consulting widely in its first year is probably a good thing to do in setting priorities for the Coventry city and beyond, especially if the LEP is to develop a consensual approach to economic development. The think tank seems to miss the point on that.
A very short supplemenatry blog to my earlier pieces on JLR and the wonderful news of the new engine plant planned for the i54 site in Staffordshire, near Wolverhampton.
Of course, the key thing here is that JLR is investing heavily in the Midlands, and who takes the credit for that politically is a secondary issue.
But we should note that a number of public agencies have played a role here. The local authorities have been key, as has the Black Country LEP in getting enterprise zone status for the site (and I guess that faster planning and enhanced capital allowances will help the JLR investment). The national government also played a role in supporting the investment.
But let's also note the role of Advantage West Midlands in getting to this point. It's worth remembering that:
1.It took almost ten years' of AWM effort in remediating the i54 site, putting in infrastructure and attracting tenants - think MOOG, Eurofins and now JLR.
2. AWM agreed the deal with JLR for the purchase of the site months ago, and then had to secure BIS approval for the deal.
3. AWM owned the site until one minute past midnight on 18th September 2011 (i.e. the day before the announcement was made).
With AWM being abolished and use of the 'R' word banished, it's inevitable that AWM will get airbrushed out of the picture - but let's not forget the positives coming out of AWM's record - whether the Rover Task Force, Regional Rask Force, or its work in regenerating sites like i54.
One day the need to join up the work of LEPs through some sort of intermediate scale will be back on the political agenda. The lessons from RDAs (positive and negative) will need to be remembered. AWM wasn't perfect but it did a lot of good work for the region's economy and i54 is one example of that.
Professor David Bailey works at Coventry University Business School
Just a few weeks ago we were being told by the local great-and-the-good that Birmingham's new enterprise zone (EZ) will create 50,000 jobs and raise £700 million (some £70 million a year) for the region. In fact, the 50K/70m argument was the only real argument for an enterprise zone plonked firmly in the centre of Britain's second city in an area which could anyway pull in flagship investment, rather than say a site like Longbridge where development after MG Rover really could do with a kick start through EZ status.
That EZ cash pile was meant to come from extra business rates paid by employers moving into the enterprise zone over the next 25 years (the idea being that they will be lured into the EZ with the offer of a 100% discount on their business rates over five years, streamlined planning controls, and maybe cheap superfast broadband as well).
There's been a fascinating debate in the Birmingham Post over the last few months over the M6 Toll road, fought out in the letters pages.
As readers will know, the M6 Toll road was opened in late 2003, with the stated public aim of reducing congestion on the M6 around Birmingham which was and still is often grid-locked (as I know well from going up and down to visit my mum near Stoke). Hence the road's original name, the 'Birmingham Northern Relief Road' (BNRR).
This new toll road was designed to take up to 100,000 vehicles a day but is now running at about one-third capacity and well below forecasted traffic levels.
The Government recently announced that a fifth of the RDA's land and property assets, including business parks, development sites and other bits and pieces of infrastructure they had built up over the last few years, will be sold - on the open market - while some regeneration sites will be transferred to the Housing and Communities Agency (or HCA) - an unaccountable quango.
Remember that the justification, in so far as there was one at all, for abolishing the RDAs was that they were, er, unaccountable quangos.