9 key developments in the West of England this year

Richard Bonner
Bristol Chamber of Commerce & Initiative President - Business West
19th December 2018

When Professor Steve West handed me the Bristol Chamber of Commerce & Initiative President’s medal in September 2017, I didn’t quite anticipate what a busy year it would be. So busy, in fact, that aside from my day job as city executive for Bristol at Arcadis, I haven’t managed to blog as much I’d have liked to!

That being so, I thought it appropriate, with 2019 approaching, to provide an overview of the key developments in the Bristol & Bath city region that the Initiative has played a part in this year.

1. Bristol’s successful bid for Channel 4 Creative Hub

Whilst we didn’t manage to secure the regional HQ that we’d hoped for – that accolade went to Leeds - it’s a real coup that the broadcaster has chosen to locate one of their two hubs here (the other located in Glasgow).

On the one hand it’s a huge confidence boost for the digital, media and creative industries in our region and on the other it demonstrates partnership working at its finest – demonstrating just what can be achieved when business, the community and local government join forces and steer the development of the city region.

The bid team led by Mayor Marvin Rees did a fantastic job, not only convincing Channel 4 bosses that we are worth the investment, but really helping to sell the narrative about what makes us unique.

2. The West of England builds its MIPIM momentum

Speaking of which, back in May I was part of a delegation sent by the West of England to international property and investment conference MIPIM. For those of you unaware of MIPIM, it is perhaps best described as a showcase for the world’s cities, regions and nations, attracting thousands of the top investors from all around the world.

An initiative driven by Invest Bristol & Bath, with support from the West of England Combined Authority, the purpose of the visit was to help develop smart connections on the ground at MIPIM, and really hit home the message about what makes the West of England one of the most investable regions in the UK.

The Initiative team at Business West will be heading out there again in March next year, and hopefully we’ll return with news of investment.

3. Global Parliament of Mayors Summit comes to town

The UN predicts that 68 percent of the global population will live in urban areas by 2050. In light of this, mayors and city leaders will likely see their influence grow and begin to play a much greater role in domestic politics and on the international stage.

The growing influence of mayoralty in UK domestic politics is something that we have witnessed first-hand in the West of England, voting in favour of creating the role of city mayor for Bristol in 2011 and again in 2017, one of only six English regions to elect a ‘metro mayor’ to oversee the West of England Combined Authority.

It was fitting then, given our recent history, that Bristol was chosen as the host city of the Global Parliament of Mayors (GPM) Summit 2018. Over 2.5 days in October, around 80 mayors and city leaders, international organisations and UN agencies descended on Bristol to take part in the summit, with over 2,500 local people also involved in related events.

The event was evidence not only of the growing influence of mayors and city leaders – GPM 2018 witnessed the signing of the first international agreement to improve the welfare of migrants around the world - but also of Bristol and the West of England as a global city region on the international stage.

4. Bristol Arena moves one step closer

The decision back in August to pull the plug on developing the Temple Island site in favour of Filton was a controversial one.

For many years, it had looked as though an arena for Bristol would be located near to Bristol Temple Meads rail station, only for the Brabazon site to emerge at the eleventh hour as the City Council’s preferred option.

Whilst I fully understand the attachment many of us felt towards the idea of an arena on Temple Island, we have to realise that these are increasingly challenging times for local authorities and an arena up in Filton, we felt, offers best value for money

Debates regarding the merits and demerits of the eventual arena’s location are likely to continue, but the early signs are that Filton might not have been such a bad choice after all. In March of next year, Massive Attack will play a massive homecoming gig up in Filton, sending a clear message to the city of the band’s approval as the site for Bristol arena.

5. Digital connectivity, smart cities, AI and more

On the digital front, there are a number of developments that have taken shape during 2018, which we have played a part in.

We have supported Openreach in rolling out fibre to the premises, meaning that more and more businesses can benefit from ultrafast broadband speeds. The West of England secured funding for an innovative 5G project being delivered around sustainable tourism and the Bristol Autonomous Technologies and Systems Group began preparing a use case for drones and the smart city.

This is all super exciting stuff that we can expect to hear much more about next year.

6. Brexit – the countdown to March 2019

Ah, yes, everyone’s favourite topic of conversation, or not as the case may be…

Speak to any business owner on whichever side of the political divide and they’ll tell you that all they want is certainty. With the state of Theresa May’s Brexit deal hanging in the balance until Parliament’s meaningful vote on 21st January 2019, the certainty that business needs remains elusive.

During 2018 the Initiative and Business West’s policy team headed up by Matt Griffith have done some stellar work representing the views of West of England businesses to government, in Parliament and the national media, in addition to launching Trading Through Brexit

Trading Through Brexit is a service to help businesses keep on trading regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. It is well worth subscribing to for regular video updates and content pieces discussing where we are at in terms of a Brexit deal and what this means for business.

7. Continued growth and investment accelerating on the ground

Take a walk around the Bristol City region and you’ll see lots of cranes and other development gathering pace. Activity down at Hinkley Point C is gearing up on a very grand scale as a number of our members saw in October, and there is further growth and activity at Bristol Port and Bristol Airport.

Furthermore, we recently learnt that the Dunmail Development in Southmead, which will see 116 homes being built, has been brought forward. This is great news; a big well done to Bristol and Bath Regional Capital, Bristol City Council, United Communities and Cheney Capital for making this happen.

Hopefully much more to come in 2019!

8. Leading the way by doing business better

Businesses in Bristol can claim to be among the most enlightened in the UK, particularly when it comes to showing others the path to doing business more ethically.

The Initiative has been championing this for decades and we were recently involved in an event for business on the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Hosted by Burges Salmon our very own Jaya Chakrabarti, founder of TISCReport, gave an impassioned speech which really deserves to be read.

9. Building a better Bristol, Bath and West of England for over 30 years…

2018 marks 30 years of the Initiative and what a journey it has been. Born out of a realisation that business cannot afford to not play an active shaping and influencing role in the development of this place and its many achievements, the Initiative is credited with playing an influential role in delivering key projects including the redevelopment of Bristol’s Harbourside, Cabot Circus, building The Matthew (a replica of Cabot's boat which sailed from Bristol in 1497), We The Curious, Bristol 2008 bid, Visit Bath, Destination Bristol, Bristol Cultural Development Partnership & Bristol Festival of Ideas, BIDs in both Bath & Bristol, Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Go Green & Bristol & Bath Regional Capital, Be On Board and 91 Ways.

Our celebration event at the Old Vic earlier this month was a fantastic opportunity to reflect on these successes but there was in equal measure, animated and meaningful exchange about the future.

And on that note, what does 2019 have in store? 

2019 represents 8 years since John Savage published ‘Vision 2050: High in Hope’ a strategic roadmap for the Bristol City Region inspired by the Chicago Plan of 1933. It is also exactly 1 year before 2020 – the year identified as an acceleration point for the implementation plans. So, with that in mind, we will be relaunching 2050 to begin to map out what needs to be done over the course of the next thirty years of the Initiative!

Wishing you a happy Christmas and prosperous New Year.

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