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West Midlands business review of 2021 – part four: NEC losses, Dandara’s resi project and HS2 downgraded

Written by on 03/01/2022


Our review of 2021 has reached the final quarter of the year and the news that shareholders of one of the region’s most high-profile employers had to inject £50 million into the business to stem covid-induced losses.

The stark economic impact of the covid pandemic on the live events sector was laid out in gory detail when the NEC Group published its financial results in October.

Shareholders of the company, which owns and runs venues such as Resorts World Arena and the ICC, had to inject £50 million into the business as it battled lengthy closures forced by the various covid restrictions.

This led to revenue dropping from £158.7 million to £25.8 million in the year to April 2021 while pre-tax profit slumped from £18.5 million to a loss of £50.4 million.

Just a few weeks later, NEC Group unveiled its masterplan to build more than 5,000 houses, commercial and outdoor event space and a new primary school on surplus land and car parks around the campus in Solihull.

West Midlands Business News Review of 2021

The first tentative stages of a huge regeneration project in Birmingham were launched when developer Dandara opened a consultation into its plans for industrial land off Moseley Street, Digbeth, for a new riverside neighbourhood called ‘Warners Fields’.

The bold scheme could eventually have 3,000 new homes, flexible workspaces, shops, restaurants and public realm across a series of buildings reaching 29 storeys and centred around a revitalised River Rea.

The first phase will also include the Henry Bradford Centre which has been designed to support start-ups and small businesses and whose name is a nod to the 18th century landowner and business figure who helped bring trade to this part of Birmingham.

A radical reform of transport in Birmingham city centre was outlined by council chiefs which could dramatically affect the way businesses operate and how residents and visitors move around.

Among the proposals were increased pedestrianisation of central Birmingham and possible restrictions of the A38 tunnels to vehicles although councillors were quick to downplay suggestions they would shut altogether.

The masterplan is aimed squarely at reducing traffic flow and therefore pollution in the centre of the city but this could have a dramatic knock-on effect on workers, businesses and residents.

A long list of other proposals included employers being charged for each parking space they provided and a new ‘segment scheme’ which would restrict private car trips between these segments and the centre itself, instead redirecting vehicles onto the A4540 Ring Road.



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HS2 was once again never far from the headlines this year but it was during November that it really dominated the news.

After months of endless speculation, the Government confirmed it was not planning to build the entire eastern leg from Birmingham to Leeds.

Instead, it will stop at the existing East Midlands Parkway station, rather than at a purpose-built new one in Toton, and then switch to conventional tracks.

It prompted an outcry from supporters of the scheme, particularly in the East Midlands and North, who see it as a vital way of better connecting these regions with Birmingham and London and the associated economic benefits that brings.

A few weeks after this news, it was announced that Hitachi and Alston had won the £2 billion tender to build the HS2 trains.

There was however some good news for travellers across the West and East Midlands this month as reborn budget airline Flybe announced it was opening a new head office at Birmingham Airport.

The firm is creating around 200 jobs at the airport and a further 400 elsewhere in the UK over the next three years and is also planning to announce a string of new domestic and European services early next year.

The carrier was previously based at Exeter Airport but collapsed into administration in March 2020 less than three weeks before the UK was plunged into a global lockdown.

It was later bought for a nominal fee by one of its former shareholders and in April the firm installed airline turnaround specialist David Pflieger as its new chief executive.

Moving into the final month of the year and December brought the news of an inquiry into the spiralling cost of a newly built conference centre and hotel in Birmingham city centre.



Sharon Graham, general secretary of trade union Unite, has ordered an enquiry into its conference centre in Birmingham
Sharon Graham, general secretary of trade union Unite, has ordered an enquiry into its conference centre in Birmingham

It emerged earlier this year that the final bill for trade union Unite’s facility in Woodcock Street was £98 million, almost double the original budget of £57 million.

The centre has a 195-bedroom Marriott ‘Aloft’ hotel, 23 meeting and event rooms, a pillar-free ballroom for use by both Unite and external clients and a regional office for the union’s West Midlands team.

But now Sharon Graham, who was elected as the union’s general secretary in August, has announced there will be a new QC-led inquiry into the spiralling costs of the scheme.

Concluding our review of 2021 is the return of trams to the West Midlands Metro network. The entire service had to be suspended in November after cracks were found in the vehicles.

Around half of the fleet was repaired following the start of the suspension in mid-November which enabled a phased return of the service a couple of weeks ago.

The suspension hit the city at a crucial time for tourism with the Christmas market in Victoria Square. It was the second time this year that cracks had been discovered on the trams after a similar problem was flagged back in June.

At that time, temporary repairs were carried out but it later emerged that more extensive work would be required.



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