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A United Voice to Support a Decade of Growth

A great deal can change for a region in ten years. We’ve had the arrival of the West Midlands Metro expansion; the redeveloped Grand Central Station; the regeneration of Coventry City Centre, bidding and winning the 2022 Commonwealth Games; and the introduction of a coronavirus that wasn’t part of daily life three years ago. But I’m keen not to dwell on the latter in this essay. It inevitably has had an impact on us all – the live events business being a prime example – however, we need to look to the future and decipher ways in which our region can overcome challenges and continue to thrive, from business, culture and community perspectives.


Infrastructural investment has always been a telling indicator of progress and vibrancy within a city. Those that are moving forward always have lots of cranes on the skyline, and you only have to look at what’s been happening in Birmingham over the last few years to feel that buzz of a city continuing its transformation. Many will see the construction of the HS2 route on their daily commute as the line connecting London to the Midlands, circles around Leamington Spa, Kenilworth and Castle Bromwich, splitting as it moves into Birmingham and the Staffordshire countryside. Its arrival will encourage a shift to rail travel, reducing traffic impact on the surrounding areas and be energy efficient and low carbon in operation. This will be a truly, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our region. An infrastructural investment that will benefit future generations and what they are going to be doing in ten, twenty, forty years’ time.


The West Midlands is increasingly global in both its offer and reach. For us to remain competitive in global markets and for large economic contributors like the NEC Group to build on our ‘best in class’ reputation, the capabilities that a true international railway connection provides is a must-have ingredient both in our pursuit of success and for the benefit of the wider regional economy. We are operating in a time of growing immediacy, with pressures increasing around us on a daily basis and a rising importance for UK plc to compete effectively in its rail infrastructure with the rest of the world.


Sixteen years ago, when I became CEO of the NEC Group, I could see the potential of our core business and our campus location in Solihull. Since then, I’ve brought in numerous partners that could also see my vision. Working primarily with Genting UK and Merlin Entertainments from Resorts World and The Bear Grylls Adventure respectively, the plan is to broaden the variety of our leisure offering. Similarly, we are always looking at how to improve the facilities within our Group venues. It’s no secret that in 2020 we had plans approved for roof extension works at Resorts World Arena. Increasing seating capacity to accommodate audiences of up to 21,600 will create a twenty-first-century arena for global tours, sports and other live events. It will enable us to further diversify content and push the boundaries of the live experience.


The next ten years will see the Group simultaneously harness the power of the real estate we have to offer and seize our locational benefits further with the growth impact of HS2.


The NEC Masterplan will transform the campus into a competitive destination to work, rest, live and play. I am committed to working in partnership with our landowners Birmingham City Council to unlock the full and exciting potential of the site, redeveloping twenty-seven hectares of surface-level car parking and surplus land. We are purposefully accounting for the sustainability triple bottom line of positive social, economic and environmental outcomes.


The plan is set to create 5,000 new homes, leisure and community spaces with the highest quality schooling and healthcare services that have easy access to local, national and international travel options. Recognised in Solihull’s Local Plan as the single largest housing development site in the Borough, this will significantly improve the lives of many in and around the area and meet local housing needs, supplying 2,240 homes within the period to 2036.


The proposed office space will increase the strategic employment land available and support a further increase in GVA per head in the area. However, we need to think carefully about the environmental impact construction will bring. That is why we have also shaped a comprehensive sustainability strategy, so the redevelopment will work in harmony with the existing woodland to promote nature-focused and active lifestyles for residents.


Environmental challenges such as these will continue throughout this period. To hit the Government’s net-zero strategy target of decarbonising all sectors of the UK economy by 2050, it is vital that the momentum that’s been built in recent years across our region translates into notable outcomes. We’ve all been working on our sustainability strategies and sat in a number of forums to share best practice with industry and regional associates. Now we need to put words into action, so come 2032, hitting that 2050 net-zero target in the West Midlands is far more realistic.

This brings me on to cohesion between our respective boroughs. For all the work we are doing to improve the region including a drive for inward investment, how strong a voice do we have outside the area, and with key decision-makers in Whitehall? It’s reported that the West Midlands received far less funding from central government from its Levelling Up and Towns Funds, compared to our northern counterparts. Businesses, local bodies and regional stakeholders must continue to work side-by-side and promote our ambitions, to push for more devolved powers so we can realise the potential of this great region. This is why the West Midlands Forum will be extremely beneficial, helping us generate one united voice for the benefit of all.


I hope that the next decade will continue to be a period of growth for this region, for which I am proud to also call home. There will undoubtedly be challenges. Many of us are currently experiencing these in cost volatility and in the labour market, but the future is looking positive and we need to remain optimistic.


The Midlands has one of the most dynamic and fast-growing labour markets in the UK and a young, diverse and entrepreneurial population. Team this with notable sectors we can boast of including automotive manufacturing, business and professional services, leisure and entertainment, we’re on a sure-fire path to future growth.


I hope the Group’s proactive approach with the NEC Masterplan will be a great benefit to the region plus the arrival of HS2.


In keeping with our trailblazing past, we will continue to deliver market-leading concepts and develop leisure themes that complement these existing plans, helping us to realise our vision of being Europe’s most successful events company. Over 1.5 billion people across the globe are expected to watch the Commonwealth Games this summer– what a showcase for our region! – and with it will come huge legacy benefits from more event bookings to an enhanced transport network. With a more integrated approach to innovation and development, there are plentiful opportunities to be had.

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