MIPIM blog: Fighting for attention in bid to win European investment
A delegation of top local business and council leaders is in the south of France to encourage investment in our region. Post editor Mike Norton is with them.
IT might be in the most unlikely of settings – alongside the Mediterranean, lapping and sparkling in the spring sunshine – but the Bristol region went in to battle yesterday in a fight for investment with cities like Manchester and London.
A delegation from Bristol, Bath, South Gloucestershire, North Somerset and private-sector sponsors launched the region's stand at MIPIM, Europe's biggest property show, in Cannes.
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For the first time, all the former Avon councils are here together – and working together under the collective title of Invest in Bristol and Bath – to get the region noticed in the crush and corporate clutter of Cannes' Palais des Festivals et des Congres.
And getting noticed here is no easy task. The region is fighting for attention in exhibition halls that are lined with impressive, multi-tiered stands representing cities and regions from all over Europe.
But there are economic prizes to be won – because around those stands wander sharp-suited bankers, developers and architects, many of whom are looking for investment opportunities in the UK.
The Bristol and Bath stand is certainly getting noticed, mainly because it is changing every minute. The space started life yesterday as a line of white walls. Bath artist Simon Spilsbury will spend 10 hours every day for the next three days adorning it with his artwork, everything from splashes of primary colours to drawings of Wallace and Gromit. Meanwhile, films play on screens and maps of the area's enterprise zone and areas cover the floor. And a timelapse camera is snapping the scene every 10 minutes.
"I don't really have a plan for what I'm going to draw," Simon told The Post. "I've got some imagery in my head but it's relatively ad hoc."
The changing artwork is designed to give visitors one simple message – that Bristol and Bath is different. And that difference makes it the UK's best city region.
Robin McDowell, the city council's team manager of economy, enterprise and inclusion – one of the team which is manning the stand for the week – added: "We've already been catching a lot of people's attention. It's been interesting to see the artwork take shape. It's a work in progress, like our partnership."
Amanda Deeks, chief executive of South Gloucestershire Council, said: "This is the first time we have committed as a council to MIPIM. It feels like there is a real buzz around the stand."
Victor da Cunha, chief executive of Curo – one of the delegation's private-sector supporters – said: "We have already had two conversations that may well lead to business in the future and have justified us being here."
Curo is one of the region's biggest landlords, managing 12,000 homes across Bath and Bristol – some of which is Bath's former council housing stock. Curo's executive director of customer services, Louise Swain, said that a desire to support the region brought the company to MIPIM. But there is also the pressure of the declining Government subsidies that help the company build affordable homes. So much so, that the firm intends to build up to 250 private homes a year within the next five years to fund a future programme of affordable-home building.
Paul Crossley, leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council, was also keen to promote the councils' unity: "What's really exciting about this year is that all four local authorities are coming together to promote the whole region. It's an acknowledgment that, together, the area is more than the sum of its parts."
Launching Bristol and Bath's presence at the show, chairman of the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership Colin Skellett had some impressive figures for the gathering delegates and dignitaries.
"Which city area is growing fastest?" he asked. "Which city region produces the most pounds per head? Which city region has the highest skills levels? Which city region has more hi-tech businesses than anywhere else outside Silicon Valley?"
Mr Skellett then talked the audience through the opportunities presented by Bristol and Bath's enterprise zone and areas – like Temple Quarter in Bristol for development, Avonmouth for the UK's best-connected and biggest brownfield site, Bath Riverside for "idea development".
Mr Skellett was joined by Joe McGeehan, chair of Invest in Bristol and Bath, who emphasised the area's digital connectivity and David Mace of GVA, who talked of a development opportunity in the city after a "tipping point" in 2015 when there will be a shortage of prime office space against a predicted rental growth in 2016.
Bristol Mayor George Ferguson is with the delegation. As an architect, Mr Ferguson has visited the show before and is clearly at home in its wheeler-dealer environment.
He said: "We wanted our message to be different, that was a big thing for us. I've just been speaking to someone from Manchester, who was watching our presentation. They have spent much more than us on their stand and it's hard to compete with that. But he told me that it was hard for Manchester to compete with the Bristol region's really good story."