Thirty or so years ago, some regional city centres in the UK were not very attractive places to live. Post-war bombsites used as car parks, derelict or partially occupied Victorian-era buildings, often in poor states of repair with industrial or manufacturing businesses in decline, had all contributed to a downward spiral and few families chose to live in those locations.
That is increasingly no longer the case and in recent years many of our regional cities have seen a huge transformation as residential developers were encouraged to create increasingly vibrant city-centre living schemes. For many, particularly single, young professionals, the often stressful daily commute from the suburbs on overcrowded trains or via a car in traffic jams has been replaced with a walk, cycle or a short bus journey.
The UK’s second city in terms of population size is of course Birmingham and it’s going through a rapid process of city-wide regeneration, with many cranes in the sky and of course the eventual arrival of the controversial HS2 railway line, which when eventually completed will reduce travel time to London to less than one hour and provide a huge boost to the West Midlands’ regional economy.
And yet, when you approach Birmingham in a car or train, it’s quite surprising to see just how much vacant land or disused large buildings there still are in locations adjacent to the city centre’s core. One of these locations is around the famous Jewellery Quarter, just a mile or so north of Birmingham’s city centre. As you can read in our Development News section there are some big development schemes happening there and I recently met up with a local property developer Marcus Hawley, to discuss what projects he is involved in with his company Black Swan Developments.
Marcus explained that his career background included working with Urban Splash on the refurbishment of the iconic Rotunda building in Birmingham, which re-opened in 2008. As we all know, the Great Financial Crisis was then occurring and as Marcus explains, a new chapter in his career started to unfold.
“Urban Splash decided to rent out the building and I was given responsibility for their portfolio in Birmingham. This was my first experience of dealing with residential rentals and to be honest I was shocked at just how unprofessional the sector was at that time. By chance at the time, I was also dealing on industrial schemes with a fund, which had £3bn to invest in institutional level projects in Europe, and at that time it was thinking about some possible opportunities in the UK.