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Snow Hill Masterplan builds on BPS success story in Colmore District

Snow Hill Masterplan builds on BPS success story in Colmore District

🕔05.Feb 2015

The Snowhill and Colmore Districts are already home to much of the city’s business and professional services sector. If a new £600M masterplan unveiled yesterday can be realised, then the area could become a major hub for professional services to rival anything offered by Frankfurt, Zurich or – according to the authors of this new masterplan with a boldness rarely heard in Birmingham – could even take on London, writes Tim Rudman

At the heart of the vision is the ambition to replicate the model that has worked to great effect at Canary Wharf and for the city to continue to attract the biggest names in the BPS sector.

The 20-year Snow Hill Masterplan, which covers the Snow Hill and Colmore areas of the city, was launched by Birmingham City Council and Colmore Business District (CBD). It provides a framework to create 10,000 new jobs, generate over 200,000 sq m of new office space and boost the local economy by over £600 million each year.

The plan also outlines the improvement of transport links such as the redevelopment of Snow Hill station – described by the Council and CBD as the main connection between the business district and London – which will include new commercial buildings replacing its multi-storey car park. The plan aims to encourage London-based firms to expand in Birmingham, as Deutsche Bank did last year.

Birmingham has proved itself as a centre for first class professional services and is proud of its ability to provide services to business across the globe. Birmingham’s BPS sector is the largest in the UK outside London and there is no doubt about its importance to the city’s economic future.

Across the wider region, the sector generates £15 billion annually, with more than 21,000 companies employing some 220,000 people. One of the key factors in its recent growth and ability to attract work from across the world is an economic one: operational costs in Birmingham can be up to 55% cheaper than London – with its office market offering the best value for money in Britain.

Research also shows that the quality of life is now an important component when deciding where to make a career. The talent pool that exists within a city, or indeed its ability to attract new resource, is vital to firms when they assess where to locate their business. Recent figures appear to show that the message that Birmingham can offer a better place to live and work than the capital is getting through as some 5,500 people aged in their thirties left London last year to move to Birmingham – more than any other regional city.

The Snow Hill Masterplan will add 4,000 residential units to the area, catering for young professionals looking to move to the city.

Clearly a vibrant and successful professional services sector is vital to the city’s economy, but also for its reputation as a place in which to do business – a fact that wasn’t lost on the Leader of the Council, Sir Albert Bore, who at the launch commented:

Birmingham is putting in place the building blocks for a global business and financial centre. The city is already investing heavily to ensure that firms have everything they need to thrive here.

Going on to specifically address the content of the masterplan Sir Albert stated:

The Snow Hill Masterplan provides a bold and exciting proposal for how Birmingham can continue to grow its thriving business and professional services sector. With time, we want the city to replicate the success of Canary Wharf, with areas like the Snow Hill district forming the cornerstone of this vision.

With the successful £600 million transformation of Birmingham New Street – one of the UK’s busiest train stations – due to complete later this year, we are already looking at how other parts of the city can capitalise on upgraded transport schemes. Plans such as the revitalisation of Snow Hill station will strengthen Birmingham’s position as a destination for national and international BPFS firms that want to expand, attract skilled staff and join other successful companies in their sector.

It was noticeable that talk of “laying down the gauntlet” to London as well as Frankfurt and Zurich was not repeated at the launch or in media interviews that followed, with Sir Albert emphasising the desire to replicate the success of Canary Wharf.

Also speaking at the launch was well known property man Gary Cardin, Chair of the influential Colmore BID. Gary was in no doubt that the masterplan laid down the foundations for future growth:

The Snow Hill Masterplan paints a picture of new landmark developments that will expand CBD and provide a sustainable supply of high-quality office and mixed-use space, supporting strong business and residential growth for decades to come.

As with all masterplans, the devil is in the detail and the ability of those tasked to deliver the plan to attract the investment and the firms to locate here.

Connectivity forms a major part of the vision. The plan outlines how Snow Hill station’s car park will be replaced with new office buildings, while a new concourse area will be created and new walking routes provided through the station. It also includes the transformation of the A38, to create a new urban boulevard connecting the neighbouring Jewellery and Gun Quarters, and the creation of a new urban neighbourhood in the Steelhouse Lane area. It is designed to support existing investments including the £30 million restoration of the historic Grand Hotel, the arrival of HS2’s new construction headquarters at Two Snowhill – which will employ 1,500 people – and the extension of the £127 million Midland Metro network.

Those promoting the masterplan will need to be careful about connectivity. HS2 and the Metro extension will be critical, but neither the work at New Street or Snow Hill will add to transport capacity. Organisers of the launch might have thought that the major problems on the Chiltern Line that surfaced this week could have been better timed.

How will the vision be financed? Councillor Tahir Ali, Cabinet Member for Development, Transport and the Economy at Birmingham City Council, offered some clues:

The Masterplan proposals will be supported by significant investments from the public and private sector to deliver a range of benefits, including improved public routes and spaces. Its proximity to the HS2 Curzon station, linked via the new Metro connection, will ensure that the Snow Hill district will be at the heart of Birmingham’s offer as an international business investment destination.

Sir Albert expressed confidence that much of the masterplan could be delivered within 20 years. It will be interesting to see what other investment and results can be produced early.

The plan also builds on the £9.9 million being invested in enhancing the area’s public realm by the Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP, CBD, Birmingham City Council and Centro. It sets out a clear strategy that will draw upon funding from the city’s Growth Deal and Birmingham’s Enterprise Zone.

The Masterplan offers an exciting vision and an ambition to be applauded. It will be an interesting journey and its authors are keen to hear views. A six week period of public consultation on the Snow Hill Masterplan will run from 9th February 2015 until 23rd March 2015. The strategy can be downloaded and details of how to make comments can be found here.

Tim Rudman is a director of Urban Communications, sister firm to Chamberlain Files publisher RJF Public Affairs, and an adviser to BPS Birmingham which represents, promotes and connects the sector. 

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