Birmingham, the UK's second most populous city and according to fDi Markets the second largest recipient of greenfield FDI in the UK, is seeking an alternative way of financing its development projects. As city leaders announced at Mipim, a property conference held in Cannes in the first week of March, Birmingham is targeting sovereign wealth funds (SWFs) from Abu Dhabi, China, Norway and Saudi Arabia to provide funding for a portfolio of projects worth £1bn ($1.58bn).

According to Mike Whitby, leader of the city council, Birmingham is believed to be the only city in the UK that is open to partnerships with SWFs. Launched in Cannes, the city's sovereign wealth and institutional funds prospectus consists of nine projects, including the development of a high-speed railway station and Paradise Circus – a site linking the city's southside business and leisure district with the city centre.

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The projects are part of the Big City Plan, Birmingham's city-centre improvement project designed to create 50,000 new jobs, 1.5 million square metres of office, retail and entertainment space and 5000 new homes in the next 20 years. The city council estimates that when finished the redevelopment project will deliver £2.1bn of economic growth annually.

According to the 'Sovereign Wealth Funds: Real Estate Partners in Growth?' report by Deloitte, a global consultancy, SWF involvement in realty is growing exponentially, with investments in the sector increasing from $18bn in 2004 to $53bn in 2007. This growth has been further intensified by the crisis, as cash-rich SWFs have been welcomed as partners in projects which otherwise would have to be put on hold. Alternative assets monitor Preqin estimates that in 2011, 56% of all SWFs invested in real estate (up 5% when compared to 2010) and 61% invested in infrastructure (up 14% when compared to 2010).