Midlands' growth opportunity

David Atkinson joined The Business Desk’s webinar ‘Level best? The role of the regions in transforming the UK’s post-pandemic economy’ and discusses his key takeaways.

David Atkinson, regional head of land and development (Midlands / North), recently joined a panel discussion on The Business Desk’s webinar ‘Level best? The role of the regions in transforming the UK’s post-pandemic economy’ and has been looking back on his key takeaways.

“It’s always a pleasure to join fellow business leaders who are equally as passionate as the Willmott Dixon team about driving regional development and supporting various stakeholders to receive the benefits.

“The panel and I agreed that it’s a very exciting time for the Midlands. Especially for Birmingham, thanks to several significant projects and events that are now underway – such as HS2 and the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

“We’ve been working closely with a number of councils to help them to unlock schemes using a combination of construction and development expertise, accelerating regional growth that creates new jobs and leads to wider prosperity.”

The second city

“In three of the five years before the pandemic, Birmingham achieved higher GDP growth than the UK and European city averages. The continuation of this has yet to be proven, though not without lack of trying.

“The tremendous inward investment we’ve seen in Birmingham has provided a platform and a blueprint for the rest of the Midlands to follow, with the towns and villages that surround it having an important role to play. What the city has achieved, and continues to work towards, can be replicated in other regions and used as a model for success.

“Having said that, using the example of HS2, it’s important that conversations continue on how we embed major projects within the levelling up agenda. It would be extremely disappointing if the HS2 stations were to be surrounded by car parks and the network was not created to support greater local connectivity and infrastructure. Better transport networks is essential, so people in surrounding towns can travel regionally and nationally on a regular basis without needing a car. In doing so, we can all contribute to living more sustainably.

“Birmingham is not perfect. Its current metro system is less developed than Nottingham’s, despite being a much larger city. However, like anything, with every problem lies an opportunity and seizing the chance to involve local manufacturing in development will help to better distribute wealth.”

Putting people first

“Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) factors were raised numerous times throughout the discussion; it’s well worth the airtime.Take the upcoming Commonwealth Games for example, it’s the first time in its near 100-year history that it includes an ESG element within its framework. This is an amazing thing not only to improve the platform the event provides, but also to benefit Birmingham in the immediate future.

“Beyond the international recognition, raised morale, and improved facilities the event brings to its host city, there will now be a focus on some of the less developed areas to support future generations. This is especially evident in Perry Barr where the new £10 million bus station will have a lasting legacy in the aftermath of the sporting event. “On the topic of future generations, it is hoped that by the time they join the workforce there will be less need to discuss the skills gap. We’re very proud of our long-standing apprenticeship programme and NEET initiatives that help young people discover the career opportunities in construction, but we’re not naïve enough to think that there isn’t still talent that slips through the cracks. Indeed, agreement was unfortunately formed among the panel on the fact that there is still progress to be made regarding routes to industry.

“As a business community, we must take ownership of these issues and invest time and money to create change. Becoming a self-made city and sustaining a circular economy is the ultimate goal, but first we must target the weaker areas of the local ecosystem and improve talent retention.”

Where do we go from here?

“Within the residential sector, I have observed a greater realisation of emerging poverty pressure. For me, the onus is on the construction industry to provide low-carbon developments that will lower the cost of living and make a difference in our most vulnerable communities.

“Ultimately, development programmes are increasingly requiring a more innovative approach, with public and private collaboration as the key. The Midlands has great potential to harness collaboration and I am regularly inspired by conversations that carry an air of opportunity and positivity. The Midlands has a pivotal rule in the future of UK plc, and we’ll be here to make sure the region fulfills this potential.”