Examining the UK's Regional Recovery: Belfast & Scottish Cities - Webinar report

As the UK emerges from the Covid pandemic, towns and cities across the country will be looking to restore their fortunes. Opportunities will arise for local authorities hit by the virus to regenerate their neighbourhoods and reboot their economies through collaboration and partnerships with both central government and the private sector. These opportunities, and more, were discussed at two MIPIM webinars recently.

First, Belfast, which is seeking to build on its transformation in the last 10 years into a vibrant, socially diverse and economically attractive city. Suzanne Wylie, Chief executive of Belfast City Council, said Belfast’s sector strengths included life sciences, software and digital technology development, advanced manufacturing and the creative industries. The city has attracted significant levels of foreign direct investment (FDI), creating 10,000 jobs in the last five years, while local businesses have also played a crucial part in Belfast’s economic renaissance.

Said Wylie: “When they visit us, first-time investors have been blown away by the transformation of the city. They come here for the skills and the talent that are on offer, for the cost-competitive environment, and for the quality of life.”

According to Steve Harper, executive director of Invest NI, the US remains the biggest source of high-value FDI, while “the most pleasing aspect of Northern Ireland and Belfast’s journey in recent years is that 70% of those companies who invest once in the city and elsewhere in Northern Ireland go on to re-invest”.

Meanwhile, new transport schemes ought to prove “transformational”, according to Chris Conway, Group Chief CEO of Translink, with the Weaver’s Cross scheme and the Belfast transport hub expected to be “huge catalysts for change”. Belfast also has ambitions to ramp up the number of homes in the city centre; Suzanne Wylie said the development of mixed housing across the city, in collaboration with developers, is high on the council’s agenda.

In Scotland, seven cities have more than £5bn committed to supporting economic development through City Region and Growth Deals. Susan Aitken, Leader of Glasgow City Council, told the Scottish Cities webinar that the city was meeting the challenges of its post-industrial past, including the pandemic, re-discovering its talent for innovation and invention to become a knowledge-led economy.

Investors have reacted incredibly positively to this, and we’re seeing the formulation of some fantastic alliances and partnerships,” she added. A Global Green city, Glasgow is set to host the COP26 environmental event later this year. “These are not coincidences,” said Aiken, “rather they are testament to the investment strategy which clearly demonstrates a path to sustainability, to inclusive growth. This is telling a story to which investors are reacting positively.”

Meanwhile in Dundee, as part of a 10-year programme, City Council Leader John Alexander and his team are looking to leverage around £700m of private and public funding into the Tayside area, with a diverse range of projects looking to enhance existing assets in the region. Like Glasgow, Dundee has a focus on becoming a knowledge-led city, said Alexander: “We want to capitalise on the talent we have in areas such as biomedical research, life sciences, digital and creative sectors and advanced manufacturing.”

Collaboration will be key in delivering on the ambitions of various stakeholders, according to Chris Darroch, Executive Director at Federated Hermes, as cities sought to address key structural issues, many of which were around before the pandemic struck. “We’ve been deploying capital into city centres for some time. Strong city centres, featuring universities – and where graduate retention is key and so attractive to employers – will be hugely important. There’s a war going on for talent, and local authorities need to match the private sector’s ambition for that talent, and retain graduates to attract corporates,” he said. And what of that other issue facing societies around the world, climate change? “It is probably the most important that we have to contend with,” Darroch added.

Top image: Dundee (Scotland) and Belfast (Northern Ireland), by benedek & benkrut respectively, both from Getty Images

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