The North East of England has continued to see major investment over the past two years since we last attended global real estate conference, MIPIM. Despite the pandemic, activity across the digital and tech, renewable energy, advanced manufacturing, health and life science and hospitality sectors has flourished.
Ahead of MIPIM Cannes this week, Invest Newcastle, who is leading a North East delegation, sat down with Invest North East England Director, Guy Currey to chat about why the North East continues to be a world-leading destination to invest in and the opportunities available for businesses, investors and multipliers.
Why is MIPIM such an important event to attend and why have you chosen to join the Invest Newcastle delegation?
MIPIM continues to be the world’s premier property expo, where ambitious cities and regions meet with a wide variety of investors, developers, and government officials to discuss all things property. It’s where connections are made, opportunities pitched and deals are done.
Whereas my primary focus is to attract new end users to locate in the North East, property and investment is a crucial part of the inward investment mix. I’m delighted to be joining the Invest Newcastle delegation to showcase our region and highlight what opportunities there are for investors. I am very excited by what the region has to offer, and I will be working hard to paint a compelling picture of the North East’s amazing investment opportunities.
What are some of the key office and industrial development opportunities in the North East?
Throughout the North East there’s an incredible amount of commercial property development under construction and planned for the near future. Durham’s Milburngate development overlooking the River Wear, opposite the castle and cathedral must be one of the most spectacular developments in the UK at the moment. The development offers 450,000 sqft of office, leisure, retail and residential space, which is nearing completion. Just up the hill, Durham County Council’s vision for the new office campus at Akeley Heads is equally exciting.
In the Centre of Sunderland, the Riverside Sunderland development of the old Vaux site is offering a range of commercial office spaces for inward investors, as well as a numerous residential options which will be brought to life at the Sunderland Future Living Expo in 2023. These developments are transforming this important area of Sunderland’s city centre, with new businesses already moving into the first commercial offices at The Beam, and a spectacular new City Hall delivered for the City Council.
Newcastle city centre is experiencing a real renaissance in its new build office market. The recently completed Lumen will shortly be joined by the Spark, both offering spectacular Grade A office space right in the heart of the city at Newcastle Helix. Further office development is planned at the Stephenson Quarter, as well as a massive office, leisure and retail masterplan being delivered at East Pilgrim Street, with the 120,000 sqft Bank House office development dominating the entrance to the city at the end of the Tyne Bridge and ready for occupation in early 2023.
There are also many equally exciting industrial development schemes underway at present. The International Advanced Manufacturing Park in South Tyneside/Sunderland is not only the location for Envision’s new battery Gigafactory, it’s also home to a number of key automotive component manufacturers. There is a massive opportunity for more advanced manufacturing developments here, and we are dealing with a number of interested investors looking at this and other locations such as Jade Business Park in Seaham, Forrest Park in Newton Aycliffe and Hillthorn Business Park in Washington.
North of the River Tyne, Indigo Park is receiving a lot of interest from inward investors as are some of the business parks in Northumberland such as Ashwood Business Park and the Northumberland Energy Park. It is here that Britishvolt is building a huge 2.7 million sqft battery Gigafactory and JD Cables has recently announced it is to invest in a new subsea cable manufacturing plant.
There are lots of development opportunities for renewable energy companies on the Tyne, with sites at Neptune Yard and Swans Energy Park as well as a number of sites at the Port of Tyne’s new Clean Energy Park. All in all, there’s loads going on!
What role does inward investment and the private sector have on the Levelling Up agenda?
From a very parochial North East inward investment perspective, Levelling Up for me is all about the government making sure that the conditions are in place to enable the attraction of as much new high value investment to the North East as is possible. Inward investment provides new investment and jobs and can be completely transformative – look at Nissan’s investment in Sunderland, surely one of the most important inward investments in UK history. The government has made a commitment to support Levelling Up, although much of the detail is still to be announced. The North East needs more R+D investment to bring high quality jobs, new ideas and further investment opportunities to the region. I am hoping that the government will be providing a range of financial instruments to incentivise private sector investment, and its creation of a number of Freeports in England, including one in Teesside, is part of a potential package.
Private sector investment in new property schemes also has a vital role to play in the Levelling Up agenda. New commercial property provides the space so important for inward investors. Exciting mixed-use regeneration schemes such as NewcastleGateshead Quays area, conference and exhibition centre, have the potential to transform not only the economic potential of an area through attracting visitors and further investment, but also create a large number of new jobs – this is really what my job is all about, attracting the investment to the region which will provide job opportunities for people in the North East.
Levelling Up for me is also about devolving more power and resources to local decision makers, so that the priorities for investment can be made by those who are best placed to understand the nuances of the local economy and how best to invest to provide opportunities to local people.
What makes the North East of England stand out as a place to invest compared to other regions in the UK?
North East England has so much going for it compared to many other areas of the UK. I’ve been up here now for over 25 years and it never ceases to amaze me how hard working, enthusiastic, loyal and determined the people are up here. I’ve shown many investors around who have heard me talking about the skills, talent and attitude of the workforce and they have subsequently confirmed what I was saying, was completely true. We have very low staff turnover rates compared to most other regions, and this is absolutely essential for new investors, as often staff costs, including training are a major proportion of the business’s running costs.
After access to markets, talent availability is usually the number one consideration for an inward investor. The North East is putting in place plans to develop skills in a range of areas. For us, electrification technologies, digital technology and life sciences are three key areas we need to develop a new pipeline of skills. However, our five universities and network of outstanding colleges, all with an excellent track record of working with businesses to develop talent pipelines, are helping the North East compete on many investment projects.
The North East is also blessed with a really impressive portfolio of new commercial property as well as plans for future business parks and bespoke development opportunities. Property costs are extremely competitive in the North East compared to most other UK regions, something else that is important to businesses. Our range of enterprise zones, as well as financial incentive schemes are also turning the heads of potential investors.
Another thing that new investors always comment on is the supportive environment for new business arrivals in the region. Collaboration with other businesses through the various business networks and ecosystems is absolutely essential for them to quickly establish their key supply chains and customers of the future. Many comment that the North East does this far better than other areas in the UK.
The quality of life in the North East is also important for attracting new people to region, retaining university students to work here once they graduate, and attracting business owners to consider setting up in the region. The cost of living is very low, meaning people’s wages go further, and allow them to make the most of the superb natural environment, the vibrant cities with the world class cultural activities on offer here. I often say that where else in the UK can you go surfing in the morning, travel to work on the metro to be at your desk in the centre of a vibrant, internationally connected city before 9.00am!