EXPO Real 2018: “Transport links listed as vital for growth”

Transport connectivity is topping the list of requirements for occupiers as it becomes more vital for growth and attracting talent to their businesses. While there are plans and proposals in the offing to improve the UK’s and Ireland’s transport network there is widespread clamour for more to be done.

It was access to transport that was of uppermost importance to multinational pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca when it decided to create a new head office in Cambridge in 2014, according to John McGill, director at the London Stansted Cambridge Consortium.

“Domestically transport matters to a big company like Astra, which is just moving in,” he said at a discussion on EG’s UK and Ireland stand on ‘The opportunities to build on the UK and Ireland’s changing transport infrastructure.’

“Getting the workforce to and from work in an organised and timely manner is fundamental for them,” said McGill.

And it was transport connectivity that was also behind The Hut Group’s decision to create a 1m sq ft campus at Airport City Manchester earlier this month.

“For The Hut Group, the transport and connectivity you get free with an airport allows them to bring their talent but on top of that 70% of their revenue is outside the UK. So that global connectivity to customers also plays a big part,” John McHugh, head of strategic and commercial marketing at MAG Property, added. “From an occupier perspective we’re seeing the growth of airports as an offer not just for travel.”

In addition he said that the Beijing Construction and Engineering Group invested in Airport City Manchester in 2013 because “for them investing in an infrastructure asset with the ability to grow” was key.

Improvement potential

But although much is being done to improve the UK’s and Ireland’s connectivity with Crossrail and the development of airport cities in Manchester and Dublin, there is still a huge opportunity to do more, with plans for Crossrail 2, a third runway at Heathrow, an expansion at Stansted and a west -east connection in the north of the country all mooted.

McGill points out that Crossrail 2 would be a game changer but is still missing government backing. “Why it hasn’t already happened is a question on everyone’s lips,” he said.

But the creation of transport infrastructure is not without its challenges, McGill admits with residents not wanting ‘unspoilt’ countryside built on and urban areas ever more overcrowded making new infrastructure construction difficult.

McHugh added: “By 2025 the Chinese will have built 40,000km of high speed rail in the same time as we will have got from Birmingham to Manchester. We’re already falling behind in global context.”

For Lorcan Tyrrell, head of development at Dublin Airport, which is building a new business campus next to the airport, the biggest challenge can be getting the idea across.

“It is about re-educating people about something that’s a concept that a lot of locals struggle to get their heads around,” he said. “The idea of developing non-aviation related business at an airport is a challenge not just with the local authority.”

Avoiding congestion

Issues in getting the project off the ground, included making sure it did not cause a ‘snarl up’ of transport in the region and showing the local authority the increased contribution to the local economy, Tyrell said. Then the local authority could “see the benefit as opposed to the potential initial fear that we’re going to cannibalise the region,” he added.

The airport is well connected with motorways and the airport and local authority have been concentrating on optimising the bus network in the region after the major proposed infrastructure link fell behind schedule.

Its proposed new rail link, which was promised around ten years ago, was to be delivered in 2018 but, says Tyrrell, will take a further decade to finish. He hopes leaders in the community would be able to help call for it to be pushed over the line.

“Local leadership really matters,” he said.

Read more in EG: https://www.egi.co.uk/news/transport-links-listed-as-vital-for-growth/