A major new study into the future of Birmingham’s business district has been published which recommends key steps to help it recover and thrive in a post-pandemic world.
These include appointing a champion to showcase the best of the Colmore Business District and also a look at how public transport can be made a safer and a more attractive option for commuters and visitors.
The ‘Future Business District’ report has been produced following nine months of research among a broad variety of city stakeholders.
Colmore Business Improvement District (BID) established the study and commissioned the City-REDI team at the University of Birmingham to assess and inform the long-term recovery from the covid-19 pandemic and also offer policy directions for central business districts across the UK.
The research focussed on two questions:
– What is the likely long-term impact of the covid-19 pandemic on city centre business districts?
– How can we ensure they remain successful as places to attract businesses and people and contribute to vibrant city centres?
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The BID’s own response to the research, called ‘The Space Between’, sets out a string of propositions which it now intends to explore further to help Colmore Business District battle back against the effects of the pandemic.
These include the appointment of what the BID is calling a ‘curator general’ who will be tasked with targeting and welcoming new entrants into the city centre and acting as creative director, commissioning events and shaping public realm.
Colmore Works will be a dedicated space for start-ups, independent retailers, social enterprises, food businesses and culture operators while there will be a focus on opening up underutilised ground floor spaces in buildings to support cultural, community and skills development.
The BID also wants to harness hybrid to make Birmingham the best city from which to work flexibly and optimise use of workspaces, invest in high-quality public realm and green spaces and make it safer and more convenient to come into the city centre and move around.
The report’s authors said the research had identified several trends which had emerged as a result of the enforced lockdowns and home working arrangements during the pandemic.
These suggested the digital transformation of the workplace would continue to impact business models and that hybrid working was here to stay, especially in sectors such professional and financial services.
Access to talent has become ever-more critical and there is an increased demand for skills and jobs that emphasise human interaction while future business districts will need to be even more focused around connections and culture.
Safety on transport, in public spaces and at offices was another trend identified by the researchers alongside a demand for recognising social value, climate change and inclusivity.
Mike Best, Colmore BID board director who also chaired the project’s steering group, said: “When we set up the study a year ago, business districts were facing an existential crisis in lockdown.
“City centres had been hollowed out and the forced experiment of remote working was to prove that where to work could be a matter of choice.
“Through the study and its wide-ranging consultation, we’ve found a high degree of confidence that the business district still has a very exciting future.
“The attractiveness of cities and the advantages of clustering highly skilled workers in business, professional and financial services remain strong, but the office, business district and wider city centre environment is now even more important, with factors such as transport, safety and climate change uppermost in mind.
“It is not a case of what you can do for the city centre but what can the city centre do for you.”
Other partners which worked on the report include Birmingham City Council, West Midlands Combined Authority, Greater Birmingham and Solihull LEP, MEPC, Balfour Beatty and the Jewellery Quarter, Southside, Retail and Westside business improvement districts.