Opinion piece on Broadmarsh and the City Centre – Robert Dixon, Interim CEO, Marketing Nottingham

As Nottingham went into lockdown, we were as a city, probably at one of our most busy times in terms of developments. The projects that were live on the 17th March included Broadmarsh Carpark/Library, Intu Broadmarsh, Nottingham College, Unity Square/HMRC and the Castle. As a resident here for over 25 years, I have looked forward to the regeneration of Broadmarsh Shopping centre for pretty much that entire time. When asked, I fully believed that something in that space was better than what was there, so fully supported its redevelopment into a more leisure based offer – cinema, bowling alley etc.  Yes, there was talk of the declining Intu share price, and yes, some with more foresight than me predicted that the retail market was due for a correction. Covid-19 has provided that massive shock to the retail market, and one of the outcomes of this has been Intu Broadmarsh work being stopped – at about the worst time – it is pretty much a half knocked down building. The shops are all gone, and even the walkway was shut for a few weeks while safety work was paused.

Getting something into that space is critical to Nottingham – how can we have a world class city, when the route between the south and north is not fully connected. There are many challenges, not least of which is the funding and business model to make any new scheme work.

My advice/opinion/guidance would be:

  • Use the private sector and residents to help create a new vision for the area. If the council don’t have the reserves to fund something bold, then let someone else take the lead.
  • Don’t be afraid to create something totally new. This is the chance to create something visionary and different.
  • Retail is not the answer, but simply housing or flats is a missed opportunity.
  • Link it to some of the strengths of the city – culture, green agenda, education, healthcare/lifesciences, digital.

There will be many Nottingham Partners who will be interested to help shape the future, and I hope they get that opportunity to add their own ideas, including how it is delivered.

City Centres:

People have talked about the effect that Covid-19 has had on city centres, with many core cities having much lower footfall than say market or seaside towns. That is certainly true, and impacts Nottingham too. The city centre retail and hospitality is starting to recover, but with offices and students not returned, and cultural and event venues still either closed or limited opening, it is not a surprise that overall value of sales in the city centre is lower than pre Covid.

That said, the neighbourhood retail and town centre retail has been very resilient, with areas such as Clifton and Bulwell doing well with retail and leisure, as people spend their money there instead.

Medium term this will revert back to cities being the economic hubs. Students will return pretty much completely, and when cultural and event venues start to re-open, people will return to live theatre and cinemas as before.

The office market however, may change forever. As businesses have learned that they can have staff working from home at least for some of the week, will we see the return of the 10s of 1000s of office workers to big cities in the same way? And how will that affect hospitality and public transport operators?  They will need to change and adapt.  Flexible work spaces will become more important. We already have some of the most successful flexible workspaces in the country in Nottingham. Biocity is not just the home of 100s of successful businesses, but is also the model for flexible work spaces. It has always had businesses that are virtual tenants, who pop in and touch down for meetings, rather than always actually base themselves in the building.  And there are estimated to be over 35 different flexible work spaces across the city. That will be the future, so office providers will need to adapt, and companies will downsize office spaces and look for more flexible working arrangements.  That can benefit Nottingham – a small compact city, with easy access to great residential nearby. Brilliantly located right in the middle of the country, with great IT infrastructure. Now you can chose to live in our great city, and work anywhere in the UK. So many of our businesses, both now and in the past were great global businesses. Buying and selling all across the world. That is the future for Nottingham – businesses globally connected, using great IT and skilled people, successfully working anywhere in the world, living in a green vibrant city, with lots to do and see – a big city feel , with small city benefits.