Why the time is right to exploit our city assets

Michael Henson

Associate Director Local Government


City regions are looking to power up their economies through innovative use of public assets, in order to succeed, partnerships will help deliver the expertise they need.

This is our time.”

In the space of four words, Andy Street, the elected Mayor of the West Midlands, summed up the potential places now have to drive growth when they harness opportunity to ambition. Similarly, if I had to choose a phrase which summed up the work we’ve been doing with Centre for Cities then that wouldn’t be far wrong.

That he uttered the phrase at a Turner & Townsend round table held to discuss the Centre for Cities City Assets report ‘Delivering change: how city partnerships can make the most of public assets’ rather proves the point.

Andy Street is an ambitious man with a track record of success as the former CEO of retail giant John Lewis. As elected Mayor of a major UK region, he has taken on a very different challenge, one where progress with transport, housing and skills hinges on public-private collaboration and a commercial mindset. There’s a lot riding on his shoulders.

He believes a government that has its own political challenges will back cities and regions to demonstrate they have the structures, plans and resources in place to deliver growth. It wants to see devolution deliver - as he puts it, government “…will work with places where the momentum is greatest and the opportunity most visible.”

If the City Assets report is one thing, it’s a clarion call to regional and local authorities and their development partners to share best practice, develop capacity through partnership and build that momentum.

It’s something else, too. At the same round table Martin Reeves, former CEO of the West Midlands Combined Authority, made a powerful point: the exploitation of public assets is not really about selling land or buildings to plug holes in budgets; it’s about creating a long-term vision for the future of our city regions which current and future generations can buy into.

Midlands leaders are not alone in deciding to confront a big challenge and turn it into a massive, long-term opportunity. We have seen similar sentiments in cities across the Northern Powerhouse, where leaders are keen to explore innovative ways to lever rich economic and social histories and renew their reputations as powerful centres for growth and progress.

Some of those cities – among them the likes of Leeds, Manchester and Newcastle - believe that HS2 could be the catalyst not just for major regeneration opportunities on their own turf, but can amplify growth by opening up a high-speed artery that feeds all UK regional economies.

Just as exploiting City Assets requires hard data to make the case and real expertise to deliver, the HS2 East local authorities who’ve joined us at our Business Briefings know that they must develop compelling visions of a better future to secure the investment they need. Government’s recent decision to confirm routes suggests they’re making significant progress.

A powerful theme runs through both City Assets and HS2: connecting people to opportunities.

With HS2, that comes partly by reducing the time it takes people to reach different destinations. With City Assets, it is about buildings, infrastructure and open spaces which combine to form an attractive vision of the future – a vision which must make sense to millennials looking for more meaningful definitions of value.

These are big challenges and for many of the authorities and organisations involved it is a journey of discovery, with new ideas, new structures, new financing models – not all of which they have the capacity to confront.

This, of course, is where Turner & Townsend comes in. Over 70 years, we’ve become a global leader in helping to deliver transformational programmes across the real estate, infrastructure and natural resource sectors. We have the expertise and the connections around the world.

In the UK, we pride ourselves on a national network of locations that cover all four nations of the UK and stretches from London to Aberdeen and Bristol to Belfast. In every location, harnessing opportunity to ambition and turning it into delivery is what we do.