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Waheed Nazir

Birmingham City Council’s strategic director for the economy, Waheed Nazir, tells Jacopo Dettoni how the city is meeting housing challenges, why it is looking to complement – rather than compete with – London, and what impact Brexit and HS2 are expected to have.

Q: What are the urban challenges Birmingham is facing today?

A: The main challenge, which can also be read as an opportunity, is the scale of housing growth. Birmingham’s population is [predicted to increase] by 150,000 by 2031. That means 80,000 new homes, but we have the capacity to accommodate only 45,000 new homes. Even if we push up density, we get to 51,000 new homes. However, if we keep investing in infrastructure and key transport corridors across the city, then we get additional opportunities to push up density along these corridors and gain additional housing capacity.

Q: What is your long-term vision for the city?

A: We approved the Big City Plan in 2010. That plan was very clear about driving growth in five key locations across the city. That was an ambitious strategy, and we negotiated with the central government [to establish] an enterprise zone that largely covers these areas because we needed financial tools to start investing in infrastructure and unlock growth. The enterprise made it viable for private developers to come and invest in the city.

At the same time, we are also targeting major occupiers. HSBC moving its UK commercial banking operations to Birmingham was a major result for us, and the whole procurement and construction activities for the development of the HS2 rail project will be handled from Birmingham. It’s not only about infrastructure, but also supporting the development of companies based in the city and finding new occupiers by selling the story of growth and increasing connectivity to the city.

Q: Do you see the city’s offer in the services sector becoming more and more complementary to London’s through HS2?

A: Yes, absolutely, because of its proximity, but also because London is becoming too expensive a place in which to live. We are already experiencing quite a significant migration of people in their 30s moving out of London [the number was about 5000 in 2016].  Major companies are struggling with staff retention because people cannot really afford to live in London any more. This is why Birmingham attracted companies such as HSBC, and also Deutsche Bank among others, because they can have better staff retention. Clearly we will never compete with London, but we will complement its offer.

Q: What has been the impact of Brexit on Birmingham’s renegeration schemes so far?

A: Brexit definitely had an impact as people held off their development plans until they got more clarity on what Brexit actually means. As more clarity transpires, they are getting their confidence back. Three Snow Hill is the largest speculative development ever done outside London. It was announced before the Brexit referendum, and the developers reiterated their commitment to it after the referendum. Regeneration is a long-term strategy. Along the way, you always have challenges such as Brexit, but you have to look at the longer term. 

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine
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