Oliver Deed reviews the Estates Gazette City Talks Event in Norwich #EGCityTalks 

If you are a follower of our blog, or have worked with us in recent months, you may have heard that we opened an East of England office in Cambridge at the turn of the year. One of the great activities associated with starting a new regional office is heading out and about to places that you have never been to, or have not visited for some time.

It would be fair to say, when I heard Estates Gazette were running a City Talks event at Norwich City Football Club’s home Carrow Road, I jumped at the chance to go. My last visit to Carrow Road had not been a pleasant one. At the time I was following Barnet Football Club across the country and we had been drawn away to Norwich in the League Cup. Having arrived full of optimism and excitement, this was quickly quashed as Barnet went 4-0 down at half time and despite a valiant second half performance, lost 5-2 to the Canaries.

With football firmly off the agenda on this occasion (despite Norwich City’s CEO David McNally’s best attempts), things went a bit better this time around. A star studded panel, chaired by Estates Gazette’s Regional Editor Stacey Meadwell explored the growth of the city and the opportunities that exist for investors and developers in future years.

The context was set by the aforementioned McNally, whose opening gambit was as eloquent a sales pitch as you will here for Norwich.  He argued the high standard of living in the city, combined world class facilities and, of course, a Premier League football club (at the time of writing) made Norwich an attractive place to live and work.

The other panelists, whilst positive, were more circumspect in their analysis and saw challenges ahead. Ian Fox, from FW Properties, has become a stalwart of Norwich-related events and bemoaned the lack of a coordinated approach to marketing the wider Norwich area and the lack of CPO action the council has taken in terms of facilitating development in the City.

Unsurprisingly David Moorcroft from Norwich City Council had a different take and cited the work the city was doing in conjunction with Broadlands and South Norfolk to secure a City Deal that would foster over £500m worth of investment into local infrastructure. Partnerships, he said, extend beyond that area and the city was looking to work with  Cambridge, Oxford, Swindon and Milton Keynes to create a network of high growth towns and cities to drive forward economic development.

Caroline Williams, CEO of the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce and Caroline Dean Partner at Mills and Reeves touched on the perception issues that Norwich suffers from, and worried whether the “Alan Partridge” effect had an impact on the willingness of investors to look at Norwich as a serious investment proposition. Williams also outlined the issues currently vexing businesses locally, with Brexit, pension auto-enrolment and the Living Wage arguably engendering a less bullish business environment locally. Once the EU referendum is out of the way, we will see whether a wave of new investment is unleashed in Norwich, Norfolk and beyond.

Finally, Guy Gowling from Arnolds Keys made a very interesting intervention on the role permitted development rights had played in the real estate market in Norwich. In his view, excess office stock had been converted to residential accommodation, pushing rents up, making the delivery of such space more commercially viable. However, with high build costs for new office blocks, refurbishment of existing stock remains the best option in the city, but with more space being lost to residential units, a crunch point could be on the horizon in terms of Grade A office space in the city centre. Watch this (commercial) space we say.

The white elephant in the room was the potential imposition of a directly elected mayor in East Anglia by central government. Whilst the details of implementation are still unclear, the development industry locally has yet to determine what the impact of this position may or may not be in the local area. This question will no doubt dominate future sessions in the city and surrounding areas.

The first in what will likely be a number of City Talks in Norwich hosted by Estates Gazette was a success. Stacey Meadwell cited a study that suggested Norwich could be in the top 12 cities and towns nationally to grow their GVA by 2025, even beating the likes of Manchester. With the collective efforts of the 160 strong audience, alongside the cooperation of the existing community and political establishment, exciting times lie ahead.

There is no doubt, this visit to Carrow Road left me feeling a lot more optimistic than I did last time I did.

For more information contact Oliver Deed on oliver@snapdragonconsulting.co.uk / 01223 451136