By Guy Currey, Director, Invest North East England
Regeneration, inward investment, devolution, flying cars and much more were on the agenda at the recent UK Real Estate, Investment, and Infrastructure Forum, (UKREiif), held in Leeds. Now into its second year, UKREiif brings together local and national government from the UK, investors and developers from all over the world, and over 6,000 delegates in a frenzy of meetings, presentations, exhibitions, and fringe events – something many were describing as UK’s version of MIPIM, the international property show held annually in the South of France. Leeds delivered on the sun and a thoroughly stimulating and fascinating insight into the key issues of the day.
Being responsible primarily for attracting UK and foreign-owned companies to open new factories and offices in the North East, the availability of suitable commercial property and development sites is central to the work of Invest North East England. The current industrial property market was a hot topic at UKREiiF and, as a panellist on an expert discussion group organised by the Department of Business and Trade, I highlighted some of the significant opportunities and challenges facing the sector in the North East and the UK more generally.
With the North East leading the country on a range of low carbon and green technology sectors, I explained how initiatives such as Nissan’s EV36zero project in Sunderland and some of the major investments in offshore wind supply chains were powering the North East’s economy forward as the centre of the UK’s green revolution.
EV36zero is a world-first electric vehicle manufacturing ecosystem comprising:
- An all new, fully electric cross-over vehicle to be manufactured at the huge Nissan factory in Sunderland.
- The UK’s first at-scale electric battery giga-plant developed by Envision AESC, to manufacture batteries for the new Nissan model.
- A new microgrid supplying green electricity to Nissan and Envision as well as other occupiers of the International Advanced Manufacturing Park (IAMP).
This is seen as a model for the future in low carbon manufacturing clusters. More generally, there has been a significant amount of industrial property development in the North East, responding to the requirements of advanced manufacturers involved in automotive supply chain, and in electrification across the board – dealing in sectors ranging from space and aerospace, green energy, and rail. We anticipate some major announcements of new investments in the region over the coming months.
Businesses involved in these low carbon sectors, tend to have requirements for large amounts of electrical power generated from green and renewable sources. The North East is blessed with access to a range of renewable energy, from subsea cable interconnectors and the world’s largest offshore wind farms located in the North Sea. However, there are still significant investments required from the national grid to ensure the UK has the power it needs to power these industries of the future. One of the recurring themes I heard talked about at UKREiif was the necessity to overhaul the national grid and provide improved grid connectivity in most parts of the country. My experience of dealing with some recent live investment enquiries in the North East show that investors see this as a real challenge which will need concerted effort and focus overcome.
Devolution was also a key focus of UKREiif, with all of England’s metro mayors in attendance and talking on panels about the progress they have been making. They focused on why devolution is so important and beneficial, providing an influential, unified, and audible voice on a range of challenges facing their areas. In the North East we have a major opportunity with the new North East Mayoral Combined Authority to be created in May 2024. This will provide significant devolved powers and funding to invest in a range of economic development, regeneration, transport, and skills programmes over the next 30 years. The seven local authorities covered by this deal in the North East are working closely to develop an exciting and transformational programme of projects to be funded through a deal worth over £4 billion.
The North East was represented at UKREiiF by numerous public and private sector partners from across the region. Collectively they showcased many of the fantastic regeneration programmes and investment opportunities available in the North East for the assembled investors and developers – ranging from major mixed-use developments in Durham, Newcastle, and Gateshead, to proposals to develop the largest film studio in Europe in Sunderland.
Skills is always topical, and a key theme in many of the discussions at UKReiif was the availability of skills across all sectors. Often the first thing any potential inward investor discusses with me is the availability of skills. The North East has traditionally had some of the best skills availability, with the lowest labour turnover rates in the country and a workforce renowned for its loyalty and hard work. However, developments in the green economy, in electrification and other emerging sectors means that major investments in skills development will be required in the next decade to ensure these sectors can flourish.
Finally, to flying cars. One of the most interesting and thought-provoking events I attended at UKREiiF was an excellent session hosted by Ferrovial Vertiports, all about developing a network of urban air mobility vehicles – electric battery powered vertical take-off and landing aircraft – flying cars (or taxis). These systems are being tested world-wide and I’m pretty sure one will be coming to a city near you in the not-too-distant future.
To find out more about the opportunities of locating a business in North East England, contact the Invest North East England team