Monday, October 05, 2009

Ghost streets in the sky

Tha knows (by tim2ubh)
I'd been meaning to get up to Sheffield's Park Hill estate for a year or more, since first seeing the vast wall of hollowed-out flats while driving by Ponds Forge beneath. There wasn't any great rush - according to recent reports in the Sheffield Star, the project (estimated cost £160m) won't be complete till around 2017. It's three and a half years since I wrote about the plans here.

I had a free morning in Sheff last Friday, so popped over. I think it's the first time I'd actually been up close to the place - looming over the city like some demon fortress, it had a fearsome (and mostly undeserved) reputation when I was growing up in the city.

On the slide (by tim2ubh)

If it's still an unnerving place, it's an environment of eerie solitude rather than one of social threat, like stepping into the partially autopsied carcass of some sprawling municipal beast. Part has been stripped back to the concrete skeleton, secured behind high steel fencing; but the bulk has just been emptied and shuttered, and you're free to walk at will. All seemed deserted, although parts of the upper estate are still inhabited.

Stages (by tim2ubh)

It's an interesting place to visit at the moment. I've doubts whether Urban Splash's grand plans will ever come to fruition, or whether this unique building will disappear from Sheffield's skyline. But the stripped frames of this first phase seem to hold a strange promise, of brutalism turned gothic, the bones of some monster waiting to be reborn.

Dead heads (by tim2ubh)

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Nuclear future and past

This week's Crain's Manchester Business includes a technology focus section mostly written by myself. The lead story explores how the University of Manchester is positioning itself as a centre of nuclear R&D to serve the planned new generaton of nuclear power stations.

It's a fairly controversal move, as the Manchester Evening News picked up a few weeks ago. Personally, I've come to conclude that nuclear power has to be a key part of the UK's energy market for the near-future - but, at best, it's a medium-term solution with very long-term costs and consequences.

Local worries are likely to be fuelled by a report in the Guardian today on some of the long-term consequences of the university's previous nuclear work -
Radiation left over from 100-year-old experiments by Ernest Rutherford, the father of modern nuclear physics, may be responsible for the recent deaths of two Manchester University lecturers. Hundreds more former lecturers and students at Manchester University could be at risk from nuclear materials they were exposed to. At least as late as 2006, there was still contamination in the building in which Rutherford worked, known as the Rutherford Building[...] A confidential report given to the university in June, written by three academics who worked in the building, claims that the university suspected that there was a potential radiation hazard, but allowed staff to continue working in the building.

It's extremely unlikely that any of the uni's current or proposed research facilities will feature yer actual messing-about with radioactive materials in the centre of the city, but the university management's apparent response to the pollution problem will hardly inspire public confidence.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Top ten mills

Great piece in the Guardian - West Yorkshire's top ten mill conversions.

Salt's over Dean Clough? That'll cause ruptions...

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Grounded

The Sheffield Star marks what is probably the last flight from the city's airport, with a look back at its troubled history.

Meanwhile, steel boss Andrew Cook has stepped up as the erstwhile mystery backer of the save-the-airport lobby (Sheffield City Airport Movement, aka SCAM), which is still chasing the legal route:
They are then hoping for a full court hearing to consider whether owner Peel Airports and Sheffield Council abided by conditions which stated the airport - which opened in 1997 - had to be kept operational for 10 years and "all reasonable efforts" had to be made to attract airlines.
Mr Cook said: "The reason I am doing this is because I think it borders on madness for a city the size of Sheffield to give up its airport without a fight.
"I think it is an abomination that something that should be regarded as a valuable municipal facility should be thrown away."

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Sheffield malarkey latest

Updates on a couple of long-running Sheffield development stories -

Alexandra Topping reports in the Guardian on the doomed battle to preserve the Tinsley towers, or at least to erect some meaningful public art in their place:
The Tinsley cooling towers - bleak, elegant, real - are often the first and last thing people see as they enter and leave the city. But soon, like Sheffield's industrial golden age, they will be consigned to history, demolished to make way for a new power station. [Tom James of the Go magazine] reflects: "Imagine, when the towers are gone, Meadowhall will be the only thing you'll be able to see from the tram and the M1. How depressing."

And I hear there's much discontent, in some fairly high-up places, about the Peel Group's controversial purchase and closure of Sheffield City Airport. While it's probably too late for Sheffield, the group's finding its proposed plans elsewhere are undergoing a bit more scrutiny than they're used to. Not much substantiated at the moment, but could be worth looking into...

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Airport Peeled, discarded

Today's Sheffield Star brings the hardly unexpected confirmation that the city's airport is to close, due to 'sustained losses' incurred after owner Peel Airport's decision to pretty much close it down anyway. This appears to demonstrate that the site is not commercially viable, allowing Peel to snap up the land and facilities for a quid (estimated value, according to sources quoted in the Star: £440m).

As previously noted, Peel used the proximity of the airport to block the construction of a 90m wind turbine alongside the Factory of the Future building on the nearby Advanced Manufacturing Park (the FoF, now just about ready for occupancy, instead settled on two 56m turbines, awaiting erection). Peel has subsequently announced plans to install showpiece turbines at its Liverpool airport:
The wind turbines will potentially, along with other renewable energy sources, play an important part in the airport's future development. This trial will hopefully demonstrate that turbines can be sited at an operational airport and that others can follow suit.
Funny, that.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

Crain's on the skyline

The first edition of the new business paper Crain's Manchester Business hit the stands today. I've not been over the hills to get a copy (having finished my xmas shopping early for once, I'm trying to avoid urban centres for the while), but the online version is looking good.

Interesting choice of lead story, on problems in Manchester's city centre residential market - or Nightmare on Oldham Street as they head it. The editor's column, from my old boss Steve Brauner, pontificates further. These problems of over-supply and a very weak resale market are hardly unforeseen, and I've written about similar issues here before (see various posts under the regional label. They're not limited to Manc either - Leeds is probably as bad, or worse, and Sheffield is trying to deal with the problems before they develop.

Anyway, best wishes to Steve and the gang for making Crain's a success. As How-Do's reported, the Manchester Evening News and Newsco Insider have been stepping up to fend off the new entrant, though at least Newsco hasn't been playing as dirty as they did with the ill-fated North West Enquirer. One assumes that Crain's heavyweight US backing will help it last rather longer. New blood in the regional market has to be good.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Station to station

Monumental yuppy love
Last week, en route to Belgium, we changed trains at the new-look St Pancras. The £800m regeneration of George Gilbert Scott's gothic brick fantasia - and, arguably even more impressive, William Henry Barlow's mammoth train shed, once the largest enclosed space in the world - as Britain's main Eurostar terminal means that Yorkshire travellers need waste next to no time in London on their journeys to the Continent.

It's an impressive conversion, banishing all memories of the former grime that encrusted the shed. It's not without its niggles, though - like any transport hub, there's bugger all places to sit apart from a cafe or (admittedly rather pleasant) champagne bar. And Paul Day's giant cuddling-yuppies statue is, to be honest, bloody horrible, a Saddam-like piece of monumental kitsch by way of Bridget Jones. I think I caught the best angle of it in the pic above.

I've put a couple more pics up over on my Flickr page.

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Low AMPage

Official word on another addition to the Advanced Manufacturing Park on the Sheffield-Rotherham borders, and another sign of an increasing appetite for all things cleantech -
Yorkshire Forward has announced plans to begin construction of its £8.7 million incubator building to support businesses entering the emerging low carbon energy technologies market.
The Environmental Energy Technology Centre (EETC), to be built on land adjoining the Innovation Technology Centre on the Advanced Manufacturing Park, with investment from the European Regional Development Fund, and will support more than 30 enterprises engaged in the development of products that will aid the transition to a low carbon energy economy. Work is expected to start on site in the next month, and be completed by Autumn 2008.
Companies located in the building will be able to tap into the expertise in cutting edge manufacturing techniques and other technologies that exist within the Advanced Manufacturing Park. The EETC is also planned to be the home of the Dti’s Environmental Technology Institute (ETI) should the University of Sheffield’s bid for the ETI be successful later this year.


All good stuff, but hardly a great leap forward for the AMP. As noted in this feature I wrote in 2003, the AMP aimed to attract £650 million of investment from private and public sources by 2007. That hasn't happened. It's got the hub of research centres, and already has a small business centre (sorry, 'innovation technology centre') backed by public money. But the big private sector investment that the AMP was meant to attract is still conspicuous by its absence. Informal word says that's not entirely due to lack of inquiries, but perhaps more to do with issues with the scheme's handlers at Yorkshire Forward. One awaits news to the contrary.

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Monday, May 14, 2007

Brown towns

Big Gordon puts sustainable regional development at the centre of his policy menu (presumably designed to help distance him from the less popular aspects of Blairism), with proposals for five new 'eco-towns' to be built on brownfield sites around the country.

It's a headline-grabbing initiative, combining leftish/green sustainability with property-owning rhetoric for Middle England. There's no doubt that more new homes are needed, and brownfield redevelopment is the only way to go, but one wonders if the initiative will include anything that wouldn't be happening anyway.

The first (and so far only) named site is an ex-MoD base at Oakington in Cambridgeshire, which was bought by English Partnerships for a 'sustainable' 10,000-home development last year. I'd be surprised if none of the schemes in the former South Yorkshire coalfields aren't swiftly adapted to join the programme, if it happens - maybe the housing development alongside the Advanced Manufacturing Park on the 750-acre Waverley site on the Sheffield/Rotherham borders, again headed by English Partnerships.

Might even consider moving for that. It'd make the dear lady wife's commute a lot shorter and, if the concept does catch on, there's surely a book to be written about the development of and life in a shiny green Brown town.

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Monday, April 02, 2007

Tax attraction

A counter-intuitive (or maybe just counter-doctrinal) finding on the effects of corporate taxation on inward investment, from a team at the Universities of Nottingham and Dundee. The countries which attract the most investment turn out to be the ones with higher taxes and levels of public spending - the opposite to what most neo-liberal economists would claim.

Holger Görg of Nottingham's Globalisation and Economic Policy Centre comments:
“Most economists have always argued that globalisation leads to a 'race-to-the-bottom' as countries compete to cut tax rates in the hope of attracting multinational investment and the jobs that come with it. The traditional theory is that this then leads to a shrinking of tax revenues and undermines the welfare state.

“But our evidence shows that overall effective corporate tax burdens do not appear to have fallen in response to capital and trade liberalisation, that countries aren't competing to cut taxes and actually, when investing abroad, firms find countries with higher taxes attractive because they associate them with a happy, stable workforce.”


One possible explanation is that multinationals are able to shift book profits between locations, so that the bulk of their taxes aren't necessarily paid in the locations where they have their main profit-generating operations. That may, in turn, further weaken the case for national or regional government bodies to pimp themselves out to potential inward investors by proffering subsidies or favourable treatment for investment which, in some cases, last only as long as the bungs. And it certainly makes a nonsense of much of the rhetoric of 'regional competitiveness'.

Full press release from Nottingham here.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

How-do, Nick

My old mucker Nick Jaspan bounces back from the collapse of the North West Enquirer with a new regional media networking venture How-Do. The Media Guardian reports:
The portal will target workers in public relations, press, marketing, broadcast, advertising, design and digital media in the same region covered by the North West Enquirer, which folded after just five months.
How-Do will also be a gateway to nearly 200 blogs written by north-west professionals drawn from the media, marketing, broadcast and design industries.
The website will carry daily industry news, features, profiles of companies and major industry figures and blogs.
Mr Jaspan and a team of freelance journalists will compile and edit content.
"There is so much happening across the region within the media and creative sectors that trade publications and the regional press cannot accommodate it all. We plan to cover breaking news, the deals and the gossip together with in-depth analysis and expert comment," Mr Jaspan said.
"We also want people working in these sectors to actively contribute, helping us to showcase all the fantastic creative and commercial work being produced across the region."

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Inner city pressure

Interesting story in the Yorkshire Post about concerns in Sheffield over the knock-on effects of the boom in city centre residential development. Big 'urban living' developments have mushroomed across the city centre, and continue to do so, with the number of city centre residents reportedly increasing by 250% in the past four years. Over half of the city centre flats are owned by private landlords.

There are now fears that the situation could have adverse effects on Sheffield's housing market, as speculators help to push up prices and the council's own waiting list for rented property continues to grow.
As a result, councillors have ordered a detailed report into the market changes, where most new apartments are beyond the reach of those with an income below £40,000.
Some councillors are concerned that the housing market has priced many young people out of ownership and created accommodation which may be under-occupied in many cases.
Despite those concerns, statistics produced by council officials suggest only seven per cent of rented apartments are empty at any one time.
The figure is a stark contrast with Leeds, which underwent a similar boom in city living, where the rate is about 40 per cent.


It's hard to see this situation as sustainable - and not just because of the effects on the city's broader housing market. With an over-supply of rented flats, rental yields have already fallen to marginal rates. Private owners (the vast majority of whom are presumably speculative investors) must then rely on continued rises in the capital price for their returns. With a 'correction' in the housing market long overdue, a lot of purchasers are going to find themselves at a loss - with a strong likelihood of a large portion of the stock going on the market at a depressed price. While that might be good news for the housing associations who need to expand their stock, it's probably not for the longer-term prospects for these huge housing schemes. The glamorous urban living apartments of today are likely to be the high-rise hellholes of tomorrow.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Heart of the city

When you've written lots of features on the countless grand projects, plans and proposals that fall under the urban and regional regeneration banners, it's interesting to actually experience the ones that make it off the masterplan and into concrete reality. So it is with Sheffield's 'Heart of the City' project (discussed, in its earlier stages, here and here - there's also an uncritical update by the current Yorkshire Business Insider team in this month's issue).

The new Barcelona-style Peace Gardens and the enclosed Winter Garden are now well established as a feature of Sheffield life. They're great public spaces. Unfortunately, some of the surrounding development seems a little less successful.

The St Paul's Place office block occupied by lawyers DLA can hardly be described, as Sheffield regen supremo Alison Nimmo did back in 2003, as "the best office building Sheffield has ever seen". It's a bit of an eyesore, frankly - arguably less attractive than the old eggbox town hall (so memorably destroyed in Threads) which it partly replaces. I recall Paul Firth, then DLA's top man in Sheffield, saying it'd be a landmark building to match Prince's Exchange in Leeds, which DLA features heavily in its own marketing in the region. Ah well.

The other big addition is the four-star Macdonald hotel, occupying the space between the Peace and Winter Gardens. We stayed there Friday night, the first time I'd been in since its completion. Ironically enough for the city without an airport, it's all very redolent of an airport hotel - JG Ballard, who has rhapsodised about the affectless beauty of the Heathrow Hilton, would love it. It's a little bit of Singapore in Sheffield - except it all falls rather short of Singaporean standards in the efficiency stakes. Lots of little things - the toilet not flushing, rubbish left in the room, cocktails made wrongly, a severely under-staffed reception - made our stay less than entirely satisfying. Still, it preserves the honorable Sheffield tradition of aiming for great things but not quite getting it right.

The reason we were staying over in Sheff was to see the ever lovely Jarvis Cocker in concert. His little chats between the songs were as charming as ever, with many concerning the disappearing bits of his old home town, from Castle Market to the Brincliffe Oaks. The gig finished with a ramshackle cover of the Human League's 'Being Boiled'. That, I reckon, is close to the real heart of the city.

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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Viva Las Beswick

So in a surprising decision (with odds of 16-1), Manchester's the lucky winner of the super-casino sweep. I still think the regeneration case for the whole scheme is deeply flawed, but still. Lucky old Manchester.

The police have raised serious concerns about these new casinos leading to increases in crime, antisocial behaviour and organised criminal activity. So they're putting the biggest of the new breed into East Manchester, hardly an area short of these problems already? (Note to any chippy Mancs who might be reading this - I'm allowed to say that, I used to live in Miles Platting.)

Sheffield was also making a pitch, but the verdict of the Casino Advisory Panel (as reported in the Guardian) is interesting:
"while there remains a strong regeneration need in places like the Lower Don Valley, such has been the success of the city generally ... it remains in lesser regeneration need than others."
which seems a worthier win in itself.

And I suspect this doesn't exactly improve the odds of the much-debated move of chunks of the BBC to Salford ever actually happening...

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Non-fab prefab

Not a great advert for affordable sustainable urban development - the troubled Caspar housing development in Leeds is to be demolished before it falls apart in the high winds not unknown in West Yorkshire.

The Yorkshire Evening Post this week reports:
Developer LifeHomes has bought the distinctive crescent-shaped, five-storey block of pre-fabricated flats in North Street, Leeds, and intends to completely redevelop the site.
The £3m CASPAR (City Centre Apartments for Single People at Affordable Rents) scheme was built seven years ago by Japanese construction firm Kajima.
It was hailed as revolutionary, both in terms of the high-speed advanced pre-fabrication building techniques used and in providing a blueprint for encouraging middle-income singles and couples to live in city centre.
But problems emerged in 2005 when consultants advised that the flats were potentially unsafe in high winds. The residents were moved out early in 2006 and the 46 flats have stood empty ever since.


An earlier story in the Guardian, following the evacuation, noted:
[Lord Richard Best, director of the Joseph Rowntree Housing Trust] said that the decision had serious implications for the sort of innovative building hailed by Mr Prescott, the deputy prime minister, at an exhibition of new construction techniques earlier this year.
Mr Prescott said that there had been too much prejudice against modern construction methods because of the failure of system-built tower blocks. "You just have to look round this exhibition to see how much off-site construction has improved in terms of quality and reliability," he said.
...
Lord Best said: "Caspar's form of construction was very much at the cutting edge of new techniques and the results have been very disappointing indeed."
The Kajima system was "wonderful" but required precision in assembly and care of the pre-built units - an area which Arup will now survey in more detail.


As I noted in this 2001 YBI feature on architecture and regional regeneration, the scheme won a RIBA award for its design. And while the prefab construction technique is still a promising one, and the social aims of the scheme were laudable, it's deeply sad that it's all been let down by fundamentally crappy construction. Even on a low-cost project, that's unforgiveable.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Airport terminated

The Sheffield Star today reports the hardly unexpected news that Sheffield City Airport is indeed to be closed and turned into a business park:
Sheffield Council's City Centre, South and East Planning and Highways Area Board banged the final nail into the ill-fated airport's coffin when it approved a plan for offices and light industry to be built on the site.
Sheffield is now the biggest major city in Europe without its own airport.
The redevelopment plan effectively brings to an end any lingering chance that the facility could be revived. Under the plan most of the runway will be dug up and the airport's hangars will have to be taken down in the next few months.


A nice deal for majority shareholders Peel Holdings then, whose airport at Finningley should pick up what little business Sheffield City had, while making a tidy return on the new park which should be the largest of its kind in the region (with development supported by European Objective One money, of course). Who would have expected such a result when Peel took over Sheffield City back in 2001? OK, pretty much everyone...

Wonder if they'll bother to retract their previously-noted objections to the proposed wind turbine at the nearby Advanced Manufacturing Park?

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Betts off for urban economies

The Star also reports on Sheffield MP Clive Betts' response to a new report from the government's Communities and Local Government quango:
Academics say despite massive amounts of public funding to improve business, productivity and earnings in the north, it has only managed to make things worse.
They said no city north of Derby has an economy that is performing better than the national average, according to the report which was commissioned by the Government.
And Sheffield is in the bottom five places when it comes to recording new patents - a measure of inventions and breakthroughs in industry.
But Sheffield Attercliffe MP Clive Betts rejected the report and said business was booming.
"Go around Sheffield and look at the new private sector investment going on. There's new businesses in the Lower Don Valley, new residential accommodation in the city centre and the New Retail Quarter which are massive private investments.
"Look at companies in my constituency such as Forge Masters, which has taken on 42 new apprentices and expansions at the business park at the airport," he added.


Can't help feeling that Betts is being a wee bit daft. Wonder if he's actually read the report, 'The Competitive Economic Performance of English Cities' (downloadable here)?

(Actually, I doubt the Star journalist read it, as all the factoids are recycled from a typically idiosyncratic story in Daily Mail. By 'idiosyncratic', I mean either massively dishonest or stupid. The Mail says:
The damning report - commissioned by the Government - suggests public spending at levels once associated with the Soviet bloc have done more harm than good. It told ministers: "The overt policies followed so far and the unintended consequences of others have either failed to close this gap or actually made it worse"
which omits the crucial qualifier from the report for many decades - ie, the problem long predates the current Labour government, contrary to the Mail's implication. The problem is lack of investment, particularly from the private sector, not too much public investment. Utter bullshit from the Mail, and sloppy idle journalism from the Star.)

The report itself is a solid investigation into various aspects of city and regional economic development, with a wealth of info and ideas for anyone interested in such (which we all are, right?), and touching on a lot of issues I've written about previously. The report takes Sheffield as a case study alongside Cambridge, Derby and London. While it's not beyond criticism, the stats which Betts objects to are fairly unarguable, even if the brief summaries given in the Star story are less than entirely helpful (the report said 31 out of 56 cities lagged behind the rest, apparently. What?)

The report's introduction notes:
Sheffield provides an example of a traditional manufacturing based economy that has suffered from de-industrialisation. Although there have been some improvements over the last ten years, the city’s economy is still locked into past economic forms that can be seen as hindering its competitive advantage.
The local economy has traditionally been dominated by manufacturing industry, specialised in a restricted number of sectors, primarily related to the steel industry. [...] there is still a dominance of manufacturing industry, and some local opposition to diversification, identified as a force for continuity. Other barriers identified include few entrepreneurs to take forward ideas, the limited markets served by the city, and a lack of willingness on the part of the private sector to push for diversification.
[...] there are still concerns over the predominance of a risk-averse culture within Sheffield, and a lack of entrepreneurial skills which may hamper the development of this competitiveness driver and so prevent upgrading of the urban economy in the future.
As a result of these issues the data for Sheffield’s key economic indicators paint a difficult picture in terms of competitiveness and economic performance. Sheffield’s industrial heritage has left deep scars in terms of the economic structure of the city, which has been slow to adjust to new economic and technological forms. Local strategic decision-makers are keen to encourage new institutional and economic forms. Despite this the history of the pathdependent nature of the local economy cannot be ignored, and the fortunes of the city cannot be turned around overnight.

which seems fair to me.

The section specifically looking at Sheffield, as a case study of a 'de-industrialised' city, introduces a number of initiatives I've written at length about before, such as AMP, Finningley and the city centre redevelopment. A comment about the fine line between Sheffield's much-praised 'villagey' feel and a parochial susceptibility to negativity sounds about right, as does this about the city's manufacturing elders:
It should also be noted that in a city such as Sheffield, where manufacturing industry has traditionally been strong, the industrial elites associated with traditional manufacturing sectors are perceived as having a powerful role and considerable influence, particularly through the Cutler’s Company. Respondents suggested that their culture and background do not always sit harmoniously with the innovating new sectors that are contributing to drive the city’s economy; this can be a constraining factor for innovation in the city, as a force making for continuity, and not embracing change.

Overall, it's realistic and pretty positive about Sheff and its prospects. There's still plenty to be done, but the report is in no way as negative as Betts' soundbites would suggest.

More generally, the report points to the lopsided distribution of venture capital firm head offices (243 in London, 42 in Manc, 36 in Leeds and 35 in Brum, apparently) as an indicator of the failings of the knowledge-based economy outside the South East: There is therefore a distinct regional and urban dimension to the equity gap, in those small and new firms in the regions and cities outside the [South East] that find it difficult to access finance for investment, including venture capital. However, as I've written previously, there's mounting evidence that the equity gap no longer persists. (As I explore in a recent article in Corporate Financier, the gap may now be in corporate finance advice rather than funding per se.)

There's also some interesting findings re economic health and general quality of life, which run counter to some claims:
The concept of quality of life is a much abused idea. It has often been used for political purposes with scant regard to its clear and consistent definition or the available empirical research that seeks to clarify what it means to citizens. All too often it has become one of the promotional tools employed by city agencies with the main aim of making their particular location attractive to global capital [...but] there is no necessary connection between the standard of living enjoyed by residents of a city and the economic performance of its economy.

Cambridge, meanwhile, is generally seen as an exemplar of a knowledge-based cluster, but it faces some of the same problems (which I wrote about a few years ago here) as Sheffield -
Tough containment policies are seen to limit potential investment and economic growth in both Cambridge and Sheffield. In both cases restrictions on the land and building available for high-tech and other forms of knowledge intensive industries has hampered their development. This has restricted rates of change.

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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Wind and fury

Peel Airports, part-owners of the former Sheffield City Airport and owners of the slightly more active Finningley (sorry, Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield), have lodged a curious objection to a proposed wind turbine at the Advanced Manufacturing Park on the Sheffield/Rotherham border.

The Star reports:
AIRCRAFT could be put in danger by a giant wind turbine set to be built near Sheffield airport, it was claimed today.
Worried aviation bosses fear the 270ft high structure, with 90ft blades, could potentially lead to a disaster near Sheffield Parkway.
Peel Airports says the turbine, near the approach funnel for the runway, would "constitute a serious obstacle to the safe operation of aircraft".


The curious thing is that Peel has done pretty much all it can to stop planes flying into Sheffield City - last time I spoke to them, their plans involved a massive expansion of the business park and housing across the runway, retaining only a heliport. Their investment in the site during the run-up to their development of Finningley raised a few eyebrows at the time. (To be fair, Sheffield City Airport was never an entirely viable venture - it seems typically Sheffield endeavour to have an international airport with a runway too short to take most commercial aircraft).

Knowing the topography of the site, I'd also guess that any plane in danger of hitting a 80m windmill (which is, after all, outside the approach funnel) would also be in danger of scraping trucks on the nearby Parkway dual carriageway. Or, with a sudden gust of wind, reenacting 9-11 on the Tinsley twin towers (each barely 4m shorter than the proposed windmill).

Local residents are also reported to have objected about the plans, which they believe will lead to an overbearing presence and possible noise pollution. Yes, keep those unsightly windmills off our slagheaps! God knows what they'd say if anyone threatened to re-open the collieries, or even to fly planes over their heads.

I'd love to see a wind turbine on the site, particularly if the Tinsley towers are finally demolished. It'd be a great landmark for Sheffield, and a statement of intent for the new Factory of the Future development which will have a large focus on developing more environmentally-friendly technologies.

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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Is this cool? Is it?

Bizarre feature in the current North West Business Insider, asking 'Just how cool is Manchester?'.

On the evidence presented here, not very. The first claim, from Colin Sinclair, chief executive of inward investment agency MIDAS:
“The value of Manchester’s cool reputation is enormous for inward investment. The creative, media and digital sector all want to be in the city because of its history as a centre of fashion and music and that rubs off because the professional and financial sectors always want to be associated with cool. Manchester’s got some of the leading specialists in law and accountancy who serve a cool client base and that’s not a coincidence.”
These 'cool' lawyers, according to feature writer Neil Tague, include those famous 'for getting the wealthy or famous off drink-driving charges like Nick Freeman or Jeanette Mille'. Getting the powerful off drink-driving charges doesn't make you cool - it makes you a bit of a cunt.

The rest of the article isn't much more inspired. While there's certainly a debate to be had about the image associated with, and promulgated by, major cities, the property developers. PR bunnies and bankers being talked about here - though a key part of any city's economic life - are hardly most people's idea of 'cool'. In many cases, the phrase 'all mouth and trousers' seems more appropriate.

Worrying about whether you're seen as cool is a sure sign you're not. As another Manchester philosopher said: The cool people know who the cool people are.

Mind you, Leeds isn't much better. Sheffield, on the other hand, just knows...

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Friday, September 15, 2006

Bradford Space City

News from 'business accelerator' Velocity Bradford (ie the former Bradford Business and Innovation Centre) about a space-themed promotional day -

SpaceCity is a city-wide day of space and business related activities masterminded by Velocity to raise the enterprise agenda within the Bradford district and to celebrate both the beginning of Enterprise Week 2006 and the innovation taking place in Bradford on a daily basis.

Imagine..
speaking to astronauts onboard the International Space Station
having lunch with astronauts from the recent Challenger Space Shuttle mission.
Meeting delegates from:
NASA.
the European Space Agency.
Russian Mission Control.
SME's involved in satellite navigation systems and emerging space technologies.
Richard Branson's new venture, Virgin Galactic... to name a few.
accelerating your business growth and increasing profits.
helping to inspire the next generation of space travellers, explorers and entrepreneurs.

The primary focus of the day will be the links between education and innovation in the space industry here in Bradford where, believe it or not, we have something of a ‘space cluster’ with satellite communications and space technology companies of varying sizes, Velocity, a specialist business accelerator and the Leeds/Bradford University Wireless Centre for Industrial Collaboration.


It's a good approach, I reckon - even if the Space Age is long past, it's an appealing way to raise interest, particularly in schools given the popularity of the relaunched Dr Who (which, in its earlier incarnations, was what got me interested in space and science). Fred Hoyle, iconoclastic astrophysicist and local boy, would surely approve.

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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Barnsley biomass

Today's Society Guardian highlights another aspect of environmental innovation in South Yorkshire, with an increasing use of biomass power in the former coalfields -

Instead of following its neighbours, which long ago replaced coal boilers with gas equivalents, Barnsley is now installing wood heating in all new public buildings and refurbishments, embracing biomass fuel as a preferred energy source.
Because wood is considered carbon neutral - any CO2 released in the combustion process is mopped up by growing trees - the move could slash the council's CO2 emissions by 60% by 2010, 40 years ahead of the government's 2050 target.
For [Barnsley MBC chief engineer, Dick] Bradford it is a simple equation. "From an environmental point of view, heating goes from being highly polluting to no carbon," he says. "It's a no-brainer."
...
Bradford says Barnsley's plants, which burn 6,500 tonnes of coal a year and generate 15,000 tonnes of CO2, will eventually be replaced with biomass, including the new town hall and nine new secondary schools, which will be replaced with new biomass-heated buildings under the Building Schools for the Future programme. The town's coal is currently sourced by UK Coal from various pits to create a "Yorkshire blend". "Soon, we won't be burning coal any more," says Bradford.
...
Like the one-time coal economy, biomass could provide a real boost to a depressed regional economy, says Bradford. It could provide employment - an estimated 15 jobs for every megawatt generated; bring neglected woodland into active management; and turn wood waste, which would otherwise be sent to landfill, into a commodity. "We get those big wins and we make the carbon savings targets 40 years ahead of where we should be making them. That's not bad."

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Monday, September 11, 2006

Sheffield in Venice

Good article from BBC News to tie in with a Sheffield delegation (including former Human Leaguer Martyn Ware) representing Britain at the Venice Biennale of Architecture.

If Sheffield is representative of anything, it is of a post-industrial regional city seeking to regain its footing. There are many such in the world, hence its selection to represent the UK at the biennale, where the theme is the relationship between urban architecture and social dynamics.
...
Jim Dale, a design lecturer who has lived in and around the city since the age of four in the 1970s, says physically Sheffield is a very strange city.
"It feels the need to tear itself down and rebuild itself every couple of decades. The new buildings that have come in are great, but knowing Sheffield's record, what will we think about them in 20 or 30 years when something else is in fashion?
"But it's funny that the iconic carbuncles that have fallen from favour - the egg box, the wedding cake [a circular 1970s register office] - all had rather affectionate names. That's Sheffield humour for you."

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Heads of regeneration


I stumbled across this huge semi-submerged head of Alfred Hitchcock while flaneuring around London last week. It's at the centre of the redeveloped Gainsborough Studios, just on the Hackney side of the canal off New North Road, where the great sadist made many of his early pictures.

When I lived in London, I lived for a while in a flat just the other side of Shoreditch Park. The old studios were, then, derelict - an empty but imposing complex of 1920s brick sheds, still steeped in character. I thought I had some decent pics of them from back then, but this is the best I can find -

It was a bit of a shock to see what they'd become. I knew the site was up for redevelopment, but assumed that they'd be keeping some vestige of the old brick studios. But it's another bit of history and atmosphere that's been lost - big sculptural head aside, the flats themselves could be anywhere, by a canal in Leeds or Manchester, or maybe Oslo or Barcelona (except they probably wouldn't cost quite as much anywhere else).

Still, such nostaligia is probably anathema to the spirit of the excellent Future Cities exhibition at the Barbican, at which I arrived after a few detours via Bunhill Fields and St Mary Ax. This takes in everything from Debord's first psychogeographique maps of Paris, through Archigram and Koolhaas, to Will Alsop's vision of Barnsley as a Tuscan hill village. (And speaking of Yorkshire reinventions, Urban Splash's previously discussed proposals for regenerating Sheffield's infamous Park Hill flats have finally been approved by the council.)

I then met with the brilliant writer Iain Sinclair for an interview, primarily about the influence of JG Ballard on his own work, but also taking in such concerns about architecture and place, the subject of his upcoming London: City of Disappearances. The full interview will be appearing shortly at Ballardian.com, but as a taster, here's Sinclair's thoughts on regenerations such as the Gainsborough's:
"The whole of the canal has undergone this Ballardian process, whereby all the warehouses have been turned into loft living for City folk. It is actually a city, it's a water city even though the canal is decaying into a drought-like condition, undergoing hideous transformations and being choked with weed, but along it is somewhere that is nowhere."

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Monday, April 24, 2006

After Objective One

The IPPR has released a new report on what the UK should be doing with the next generation of European Structural Funding, once the current Objective One programme ends. South Yorkshire has had the (yet to be fully quantified) benefit of Objective One since 2000, as has Merseyside (for the second consecutive time), and some of the Celtic fringes. From 2007, South Yorkshire and Merseyside will lose the bulk of their funding, thanks in part to European expansion since the last round. The expansion also means that there's unlikely to be further ESF money for the wealthy UK after this round, so this is, as the IPPR says, 'last orders'.

From the IPPR press release, the new funding for 2007-2013 breaks down thus:
Total UK share of the EU Structural Funds: £6.5 billion.
Convergence objective: £1.8 billion: replaces Objective 1. Only Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly; West Wales and the Valleys; and Scotland’s Highlands and Islands are eligible. No major urban area will benefit – a change from 2000-2006, when both Merseyside and South Yorkshire had Objective 1 status.
Competitiveness and Employment programmes: £4.3 billion. This covers all other areas of the UK, replacing the old Objectives 2 and 3. Merseyside and South Yorkshire will receive ring-fenced funding of £310m and £275m, about one-third of their 2000-2006 EU allocations. The distribution of the remaining £3.5 billion has not yet been decided.
Co-operation programmes: £0.4 billion. This covers cross-border collaboration.
These funds will be spread over seven years, equivalent to around £900 million each year for the whole of the UK. Domestic spending on enterprise and economic development alone amounted to £4.7 billion in 2004-05 (HM Treasury, 2005).


The IPPR's Centre for Cities recommends that the uncommited £3.5 billion be concentrated on city-regions, particularly those away from the affluent (on aggregate) and over-developed South East -
it is the big city-regions outside London – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Tyneside and Glasgow – that can most effectively use limited EU resources to deliver a step-change in economic growth. investment, enterprise, innovation, skills and employment.

Sensible enough, even though the idea of city-regions has yet to win many admirers in the regions rather than the cities - such as Halifax and Calderdale, where the councillors seem to bristle at being made to seem subordinate to Leeds. And given the IPPR's traditional closeness to New Labour, I wouldn't be surprised to see these recommendations being carried through to some greater or lesser extent.

A pdf of the full IPPR report can be downloaded here.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Rebuilding streets in the sky

The planning application from developers Urban Splash is finally in for the redevelopment of Sheffield's (in)famous Park Hill estate, that highly visible and much loved/loathed monster of modernist architecture.

For the application, go here and search for ref 06/00848/OUT. For Urban Splash's eye-opening brochure, download this.

The listed complex is undoubtedly one of the most striking/terrifying examples of post-war high-rise idealism sunk into urban decay. Can it be rescued for the 21st century? In the short to medium term, if it gets enough money thrown at it, probably. It was a proud and sought-after place to live when it was first built, as were many high-rises - and as are many of the new generation of high-density 'urban living' type developments.

As the promotional bumf puts it:
Can it work second time around? Of course it can.
In many ways Park Hill is so modern. The flat plans are great, more generous than many developer’s modern boxes – they were built to Parker Morris standards so there is enough room to swing a cat and somewhere to park your Dyson.
The streets in the sky are great because not only do you get to know your neighbours but you might get to know your whole ‘street’ and we want to make great streets again.


(Interesting, by the way, that a Dyson has become a ubiquitous signifier for an aspirational lifestyle.)

But will it be more successful this time at building and maintaining enough of a community that it remains a desirable, thriving place? That'd be the real challenge, and one that's only met once the developers have made their money and moved on. I know from people who've bought into the new developments in Leeds, Manchester and elsewhere that there's little community to be found in these schemes - not least, I suspect, because the vast majority of flats are bought to let, meaning there's few permanent residents to long-lasting attachments, and that many flats are empty thanks to an over-developed, over-heated market. I don't know that the famous 'streets in the sky' layout will necessarily help that - I suspect the dominant factors here are socio-political rather than architectural.

It'll be fascinating to see how it all works out, but I hope I'll be excused if I don't pre-order my flat now.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Alsop's fall from grace

News in today's Guardian that architect and urban theorist Will Alsop has had to sell his practice. He blames increasing aversion to risk-taking among the commissioners of new buildings:
"Of all the countries in the world, the UK is the most risk-averse group of people there is. In North America we are doing very well and in the far east we are doing well. I want to work in the UK, it's my home. In London we are not being hired to design the office buildings we should because of a perception we are a risk and might not get planning permission. The Olympics is a good example [of the UK's risk aversion]. We are not putting our name forward because I don't think we are going to get anything there."

Alsop's best known in these parts for his various RDA-commissioned masterplans for urban regeneration - including a watery reinvention of the centre of Bradford, postmodern pods attached to the Piece Hall here in Halifax and, most famously, Barnsley reinvented on the lines of a Tuscan hill village. The general reaction to these was often less than entirely serious, a factor that Nick Johnson of Urban Splash blames for Alsop's fall from grace -
"He was being used by everybody to reinvent themselves and when it doesn't come off he falls victim to the unfair criticism that he can't deliver," said Johnson. "An idea like walling in Barnsley to reinforce its urbanity is a creative piece of thinking. It shouldn't be ridiculed. It's the work of a genius."

I always liked Alsop's ideas better than his actual architecture - even the Barnsley plan. As I wrote in a later piece for Yorkshire Business Insider -
The Tuscan village concept comes only in part from the town's elevated position on the eastern stretches of the Pennines - it's also inspired by the ideal of a compact walled town as the model for a sustainable community. Comedy aside, no one's really expecting a sudden outbreak of ramparts, frescoes and olive groves along Shambles Street.

His idea of a cross-Pennine SuperCity along the M62 belt was inspiring, and already is a reality to the extent that the motorway corridor allows people living along its length to work, shop and play at any other point along the axis (allowing for congestion round Leeds, of course).

It was always a disappointment that his actual architectural work - all too easily caricatured as blobs on stilts, exemplified by his aborted design for Liverpool's fourth grace - was so unlovable and repetitive that it's little wonder that no one wanted to commission him to actually design buildings. Please, Will, stick to the theory.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Cooling the towers

Just received good news from Channel 4's Big Art Project. Last year, they wanted nominations for the commissioning of some big public art project somewhere in Britain. Sheffield fanzine Go called for nominations for an artistic reinvention of the cooling towers which overshadow the M1 at the Tinsley Viaduct by Meadowhall.

It was the most popular nomination, and now it's on the final shortlist of six. They're filming tomorrow, Thursday 9th March, and want supporters of the project to assemble at the Meadowhall overspill carpark at 3pm.

I think it's a brilliant idea - the towers are the first or only glimpse of Sheffield for thousands of people a day, they're already a landmark, and with a bit of an imaginative overhaul they could become truly iconic.

As Go puts it:
Sheffield isn't a big city or a high rise city in the same way that Manchester or Birmingham are. It's a good place to be for different reasons. We don't need to ape those other cities. We have enough heritage and culture and ideas to forge our own identity. It's all here in front of us. If you want a city strategy, all you need to do is open your eyes.

Dead right. I've written plenty on the various regeneration projects run by Sheffield One and the like - there's been some improvements, but that's the attitude we needn if it's really going to matter.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

City demographics

A new study from the IPPR on the demographics of regenerated city centres - in this case, Manchester, Liverpool and Dundee. The findings are unsurprising:

People living in the centre of cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Dundee are twice as likely to be single as the average Briton. Around two thirds are aged 18 to 34, compared with a quarter nationally. Half the people of working age living in Liverpool’s city centre are students. More than one third of working residents in Manchester and Liverpool city centres walk to work, compared to a national average around one in 10.
There is a ‘conveyor belt effect’ in city centres, with most people staying only a few years. A third of residents move in or out each year, around three times higher than the national average.


The main reason these young urban things move out is because they want more space, security and facilities as they pair off and start families. The IPPR recommends that development should now be focused on what it calls the 'inner ring neighbourhoods' surrounding the city centres, and leaving the centres to the young. Urban Splash's Tom Bloxham, who is backing this new research, is already attempting this in the New Islington development in Manc (see below) - but one question is where does the city centre end and this inner ring begin? In places like Leeds, Manc or Sheffield, the stack-em-high 'urban living'-style developments are already stretching several miles outside what I'd consider the centre.

I think there's a lesson to be learnt from cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow, where demographically mixed city living in the once-grim tenements is an established fact - mostly because they never suffered the post-war desertion of the city centres that happened in many English cities.

And what, precisely, is the difference between the young, trendy, bar-hopping young professionals of the IPPR report, and the much-maligned binge drinker?

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Sunday, January 08, 2006

New Deal or no go?

Another of the government's many schemes to boost the economy in the parts the market doesn't reach is coming up for evaluation. The New Deal for Communities, a ten-year, £2 billion regeneration programme aimed at the most deprived parts of England, is to be judged by a consortium led by Sheffield Hallam University, according to a press release from that uni.

Professor Paul Lawless, from Hallam's Centre for Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University: “This is a real chance to evaluate fully how areas benefit from sustained neighbourhood renewal. NDC puts regeneration into the hands of the communities who will benefit and this study will help us to see how and why partnerships have been able to transform their localities.”

An admirable aim, so be interesting to see how it's all panning out. It would of course be cynical to suggest that the £9 million research funding from the scheme's architects at the ODPM might sway the conclusions.

For a more informal look at another government scheme to fix perceived market failures, see this recent article on the progress so far of the Regional Venture Capital Funds.

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Monday, November 28, 2005

School for regeneration

Latest from Tom Bloxham, founder and face of regeneration-focused architects/developers Urban Splash - he's attempting to set up a good school in one of the group's current big projects:

He's noticed that once the people who buy his properties have children of school age, they sell up and move out to the suburbs in search of better quality education. So in Bloxham's latest project, a brand new district of Manchester, to be called 'New Islington', which he is building in partnership with high profile architect Will Allsop and the local authority, he thinks a good school would come in handy.
...
He has researchers gathering evidence about whether local people would be less likely to flee the city centre if there were better schools available and plans to send the resulting dossier to anyone who might be able to help.
But so far he's had little help from the powers-that-be, with local education officials simply saying, 'but there are no children in the area'.


More from the Observer story.

The basic issue, that too many urban residential developments attract a very lopsided demographic, isn't new - it was being talked about when I was covering the Manchester regen scene for Insider six years ago (see, for example, this). So it's good to see attention finally being paid by the private sector, even if the public sector's response is seriously disappointing. It does seem an obvious choice for one of Blair's City Academy schemes.

Is something similar planned for the group's big projects this side of the Pennines - Lister Mills in Bradford and the infamous Park Hill flats in Sheffield? Be interesting to see the council responses if so.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Gods of the silver screen

Good regeneration story in the Economist on new uses for old buildings - in particular, churches becoming flats, libraries, pubs, beauty salons or climbing centres; and cinemas (not least those secular cathedrals built in the moviehouse boom of the 1930s) becoming, what else, churches -

Some of the people who run the churches even think that the exotic architecture of the old cinemas helps to attract new recruits, and are prepared to spend a lot of money restoring them. “When a person comes in for the very first time, the looks of the church break the ice,” says Pastor Paul Hill of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God in Finsbury Park. The church has been busily restoring the cinema's intricate interior, which was designed to give the feel of sitting under the stars in a Spanish village. “When they realise the beauty of the building and its lack of connection with religion, they feel good about it,” says Mr Hill.

The future of such Yorkshire landmarks as Sheffield's Abbeydale Picture House and Bradford's New Victoria (better known now as the old Odeon) remains in doubt, sadly. A local lobby group is trying to preserve the former as a community centre, while the latter is facing demolition as part of the city centre regeneration programme. They are worth saving, I reckon.

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The regeneration of Elsie Whiteley

Welcome news for Halifax, with developers of the Elsie Whiteley Innovation Centre confirming that the centre will open for business in July next year.

This is the redevelopment of one of the area's many textile mills, to create a new centre for growing businesses. It's a long overdue development for the town - in neighbouring Huddersfield, the Media Centre has done much to nurture businesses and bring a little life back into the town centre, reflected in Huddersfield's recent inclusion in a list of the UK's most creative towns (alongside Hebden Bridge and Sheffield, naturally).

The Media Centre was established in 1995 with public sector funding, but is now self-supporting. The Halifax scheme is a long way off that, of course - it's currently backed by the regional development agency Yorkshire Forward, Calderdale borough council, and a dollop of European funding. As well as supporting new businesses (particularly, though I hope not too exclusively, in the 'digital and new media' industries), it's also intended to revive a part of town desperately in need of some new investment - the Elsie Whiteley mill is sandwiched between the arse-end of the town centre and the poor communities of west Halifax, alongside the less-than-graceful Burdoch Way flyover, a location that may well deter some potential tenants. It is however well positioned to benefit from links with the Dean Clough complex, a thriving proof that there can be new life in those old dark, satanic mills.

For a 2003 overview of developments in Halifax and Huddersfield, including Dean Clough and the Media Centre, see here.

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Thursday, June 23, 2005

Chasing air


To the Paris Air Show last week, where all eyes were on Airbus' mammoth offering, the A380. (Click here for more pics of this and other eyecatching tech from the show.)

Inside the exhibition halls, almost everyone was boasting of their connection with, or trying to catch the eye of, Airbus and its trans-Atlantic rival Boeing. And not just the equipment suppliers, pushing everything from complete engine and landing gear assemblies to improved rivets and sheet titanium. The regional development agencies were out in force.

Yorkshire Forward had a large stand in Hall 4, alongside the Japanese delegation. The RDA had made a deliberate decision to position itself away from the main UK presence over in Hall 2. There, the reps from Wales, the North West, the Midlands, the South West, and most points in between were crammed together, trying to get a slice of global aerospace pie. In between, you'd find the stalls set out for everywhere from Ile de France to New Mexico. Everyone, it seems, has or wants an aerospace cluster.

The industry ticks all the regional development boxes: it employs everyone from engineering PhDs to trolley-pushers, and pays them well; it can draw on and support traditional manufacturing industries that otherwise face decline; there are plentiful opportunities for academic collaboration; most of the signs are for continued growth in the sector; and, not least, it's real gee-whizz stuff.

But with every region chasing the two big players, and their first tier of OEM suppliers, it's obvious that most are going to be disappointed. Yorkshire has a good toehold with the 'AMRC with Boeing' on the border of Sheffield and Rotherham - an enginnering research centre spun off from the University of Sheffield, to which the US giant has lent its name as a centre of excellence (I'll have to admit some vested interest here, as t'other half works there - but for more info, see this feature from 2003).

The AMRC is intended to form the keystone for a wider cluster development, the Advanced Manufacturing Park - but building on this first success has proved difficult. The AMP, a joint venture between Yorkshire Forward and landowners UK Coal, has so far only attracted a handful of other research centres, not any of the promised private sector investment. For a development that's supposed to be bringing 7,000 hi-tech jobs to South Yorkshire, this is obviously a problem.

The park has not been short of interest - there's been plenty of inquiries from businesses wanting to move on, mostly from elsewhere in Yorkshire, but these have been judged to be not of the necessary technical calibre. In terms of Yorkshire Forward's long-term cluster development, that may well be the right strategy. But practically, it's risky - UK Coal will sooner or later want to realise the value of its land, whether or not it fits with the RDA's aims. That'll be a particular worry if Alchemy Partners succeed in their takeover approaches and set about maxing the group's bottom line.

Yorkshire's marketing efforts at the Air Show also featured a gourmet cruise along the Seine. A very pleasant time was had by all, but filling the AMP - and landing a slice of the aerospace pie - certainly won't be plain sailing.

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Another day, another masterplan

The Northern Way, a joint project between the three RDAs covering the North of England, has just published its three-year masterplan. At first look, it's much what you'd expect - plans to promote innovation and enterprise in science and tech; improving transport infrastructure; marketing the region to grockles and investors - all under the seal of big John Prescott. The aim is, over the next 20 years, to narrow the estimated £30 billion output gap between the North and the average for England.
It's very easy to be cynical about all this, especially as Whitehall is already spending £60 billion in the North. This latest punnet of plans is backed by an extra £100 million growth fund, though of course it's difficult to say how new this new money really is.
One interesting feature is the focus on the North as a network of eight 'City Regions'. I think that's broadly a good approach, though some of these designated sub-regions (Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield) fit that title better than others (Central Lancashire, Tees Valley). Successful regeneration efforts elsewhere have seemed to have been focused on an urban core, with the benefits spreading out by degrees. It can also be important psychologically - people identify better with Liverpool or Newcastle than with compass-point regions like the North West or North East (Yorkshire being the exception as ever, even with the addition of the Humber). It's also good, of course, to see the development agencies in those three regions working together - the situation is often one of more or less friendly competition, especially when it comes to attracting the big inward investors.
Next step: action.

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