Cardiff has been the destination of choice for a slew of global financial firms and consultancies starting new ventures in the past two decades. Yet, until now their operations have been nested in non-descript buildings scattered around the city. The Welsh government intends to change that with the creation of the Central Cardiff Enterprise Zone.
Fresh start for British Gas
Utilities provider British Gas is one of the largest tenants in Callaghan Square, which lies at the heart of the Central Cardiff Enterprise Zone. The company moved its 1200-staff contact centre to Callaghan Square in 2008, three years before the zone was created.
According to customer service director Lynda Campbell, the biggest advantage of moving to Callaghan Square went beyond incentives or easy access for commuters. “We got this fabulous new space and we asked our employees to advise on interior design, so they are more comfortable here,” she says.
“People call us when they have a problem with their boiler or to dispute charges, so we operate in a stressful environment. But with our new office and new approach to running a contact centre, we decreased our attrition rate from 50% to 3%,” says Ms Campbell, whose centre has won 24 awards for customer service, including European Call Centre of the Year and runner-up for the World’s Best Contact Centre.
In 2011, Edwina Hart, the Welsh minister for business, enterprise, technology and science, announced the creation of the Central Cardiff Enterprise Zone, a 567,000-square-metre area around the city’s main train station, envisioned to be its business hub.
The government plans to draw in companies by offering incentives that are negotiable on a case-by-case basis. Yet, what really differentiates this zone from initiatives in other cities is its location. More often than not, enterprise zones are located on the peripheries of cities, generally using up land that is regarded as undesirable.
Cardiff’s enterprise zone, however, is located right in the middle of the city, close to the commercial quarter with its bars, restaurants and shopping arcades, including St David's shopping centre, one of the biggest malls in the UK. In addition, its proximity to Central Cardiff train station means that more than 1.4 million people (about four times the city's population) can access the zone within a 30-minute commute. “The enterprise zone's strategic location, access to a wide pool of people and direct link to London are crucial [for the zone's success],” says Ken Poole, head of economic development at Cardiff's council and an ex-zone board member.
The zone already has a number of well-known companies as tenants, including global advisory firm Deloitte and international law firm Eversheds. It will also be the site of the new $69.1m campus of Cardiff and Vale College, which is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2015.
Quality office space
Most of the current tenants moved to the area long before the zone was created, but the enterprise zone is currently “gaining momentum” and businesses are interested in locating within it, according to Chris Nott, managing partner of commercial law firm Capital Law and founding chairman of the zone's board.
“At the moment, inward investors search for quality office space and the Welsh government provides assistance with developing property stock within the zone,” says Mr Nott. In January 2013, the local authorities acquired a 17,400-square-metre site by Callaghan Square, the zone's central point, with the intention of turning it, with the assistance of private investors, into six buildings providing up to 46,400 square metres of office space.
Furthermore, in June the Welsh government acquired a 7400-square-metre speculative office development from local property developer JR Smart under the premise that the company will construct and finance another office building within the zone. “We have basic ingredients for this zone to take off and be competitive,” says Mr Poole. “Its central location and the governmental support for the speculative office developments are really unique on a UK scale.”