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Birmingham retail booms as West Midlands shuts up shop. What’s the price?

Birmingham retail booms as West Midlands shuts up shop. What’s the price?

🕔31.Oct 2016

A PwC report last week revealed a decrease in retailers on the high streets in the West Midlands, while Birmingham and other local centres boom. Hannah Green looks at the costs and contrasts between a shiny city centre and other parts of the West Midlands. 

A report released last week revealed there were more retail store closures in the West Midlands than openings during the first half of 2016.

Compiled by PwC alongside the Local Data Company (LDC), financial institutions, recruitment agencies and banks are amongst those being shoved out by trendier commercial entities, ironically looking to serve such employers, such as coffee shops, jewellers and bureaux de changes.

This downward trend in the urban retail landscape also reflects a recent report by Bilfinger GVA which indicates out of town office lettings have overtaken commercial city centre lettings for the first time in a decade.

However, this was not a global trend across the board. The data also reveals that major towns and cities within the region, including Birmingham, Leamington Spa and Hereford, did see more retail openings than closures… a pat on the back for Grand Central’s influence at least.

There followed the usual immediate media focus on the general ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ of this report, but what does it really tells us about the state of the reigon?

As the Centre for Cities ‘Trading Places’ report showed in August this year, key factors in an organisation’s choice of city centre location reflects the cluster of access to knowledge, access to infrastructure (such as roads and railways) and access to deep pools of workers. All of these key factors feature prominently as part of the modern Birmingham fabric today, as well as in the GBSLEP Growth Strategy for the region.

READ: Recovery and renaissance, but serious issues remain beyond the core.

As we know, Birmingham is currently enjoying its latest renaissance; lauded not only by the Conservatives during their recent party conference in the city, but in the oft-quoted location decisions of international firms such as HSBC and Deutsche Bank and national attention resulting from on HS2’s arrival in ten years.

It is worth taking note of Centre for Cities’ argument of 2013:

…the fortunes of the High Street are dependent on the fortunes of the wider city centre in which they are based. The debate must be about jobs and city centres, not just about shops and High Streets.

But at what cost does all of this apparent increasing prosperity and rising consumer confidence in Birmingham city centre come?

Former Chamberlain Files chief blogger Paul Dale’s view of ‘booming Birmingham’ back in 2015 spelt it out:

The growing success of what might be termed the City of Birmingham serves only to underline the problems facing Birmingham city council and the wider Birmingham outside of the inner ring road where unemployment remains depressingly high and social deprivation in inner city wards has been among the worst in England for many years. As Mark Rogers told us in his anniversary interview this week, “deprivation in this city hasn’t changed in 25 years.”

The split findings from PwC of the state of the high street in the region are one thing. Increasing homelessness on the streets of the city centre is further evidence of the sharp divides etched not only across the region’s high streets, but within the city population too.

If Birmingham city centre is ‘booming’, with such commercial optimism looms a grey peripheral cloud, carefully painted over by snazzy city-centric marketing campaigns but dredged up again with data and reports.

Something to keep in mind as we head into unchartered territory for the region on our way to electing a mayor May 2017.

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