Overcoming the barriers to growth
By outgoing BPAA President, Simon Price
The last few years have shown what an exceptionally resilient city Bristol is. Despite concerns over Brexit and the challenges of Covid, it continues its upward trajectory: indigenous businesses are thriving; a steady flow of exciting new companies is setting up here; talented people want to locate in Bristol or remain after graduation; developers and institutional investors are keen to share in our success.
The market reports of 2022 show that – while it was distinctly a “year of two halves” due to macro-economic factors – the sector is in robust health locally. The University’s ambitious plans for a second campus promise to further our reputation as a global research centre and generate even more spin offs and high value jobs. Equally bold plans for The Galleries promise to show how we can reinvent our outdated shopping offer.
The city’s economy is expected to achieve annual growth of 0.7% by the fourth quarter, its GVA climbing to 16.7bn.
We must take full advantage of the momentum built over recent years and maintain the position we’ve achieved; but can the city continue to defy gravity as the country slips into recession? Research published this January by Irwin Mitchell predicts that Bristol will have one of the fastest-growing employment rates of any UK city later this year when the country emerges from recession.
So there’s plenty to be positive about looking forward. But there are caveats: not least, the challenge of accommodating competing uses for the restricted amount of available land in the city centre. With industrial space vacancy rates at an all-time low, businesses facing lease events are finding their choices extremely limited, and Severnside is not an option for many.
Residential demand continues to outstrip supply, making Bristol an expensive place to live.
The failure to bring the Spatial Development Strategy to fruition has been a major blow: we need to think, act and plan as a city region if we are to fulfil our potential in a sustainable way. However, rather than having an overarching strategic vision for the city region, which is what we hoped for, everyone is now rowing their own boat. We need a coordinated approach.
The squeeze on Bristol’s planning resources is another challenge that must be addressed if it is not to become a major barrier to growth.
The BPAA wants to work with the Council to come up with positive, constructive ways of finding additional funding.
What nobody can afford to happen is for Bristol to go back to the days when it was perceived by investors and developers as being “too much trouble”.
When I began my career in Bristol, development was dominated by local and regional operators. Because the city has become so popular and successful, it has attracted a much wider range of national and international investors keen to be here for the long term. We don’t want to see that being eroded … especially as they have plenty of other options on where to take their money.