Coventry is further from the sea than any other city in the country. But that fact has not prevented the city sometimes being submerged under a virtual tsunami of criticism. It has to be admitted that some of this was, in the past, deserved – but, as the flood waters have receded, a marked and sustained renaissance of the Phoenix City is being revealed.
One of the major drivers of the UK’s economic resurgence has been the country’s automotive sector – and Coventry is right at the heart of it. The UK automotive industry enjoys a turnover of more than £64 billion, with a total of around a million people employed in the sector. The industry also accounts for 10 per cent of total UK goods exports, and invests around £2bn each year in R&D.
One of our most successful car manufacturers, Jaguar Land Rover (JLR), moved its new global headquarters to Whitley on the outskirts of Coventry in 2011, bringing more than 4,000 jobs in R&D, design, engineering and the company’s administrative and back-office functions.
This figure could double now that the company has announced expansion plans to its Advanced Engineering and Design Centre at its global headquarters in Coventry, which will see the city become the heart of ambitious plans for the company as it builds on its success across the world.
A ripple effect of JLR’s success is that the automotive supply chain now employs 190,000 people nationally, with around a quarter of all car parts being supplied by firms in the West Midlands. Local firms at the heart of the UK supply chain include RDM, Brose, Bosch, Denso, Ricardo, MIRA, Unipart, Alpine, Lear and Delphi Lockheed – all bringing jobs and investment to Coventry and the wider region.
But the city’s success extends beyond cars. Other growth sectors include aerospace, energy and renewables, creative and digital technologies and professional and financial services. Companies are being attracted to Coventry because of its location, accessibility, strong skills and knowledge base, hi-tech clusters and support – and the quality of new developments being delivered.
Chief among these is Friargate – a major mixed-use scheme that will transform the city and act as a catalyst for further development. In place making terms, Friargate will provide a new business district for Coventry that will particularly appeal to professional, financial and business services firms.
Linking Coventry Railway Station and the city centre, Friargate is a 300,000 m2 (3,200,000 sq ft) office-led development occupying a site of 15 ha (37 acres). This strategically important development will comprise a vibrant mix of commercial, civic, leisure, residential and hotel space and provide greatly enhanced public realm, with major improvements to pedestrian access.
All elements of the new development will be linked by lively streets with ground-floor retail, bar and restaurant units, high-quality public spaces and improved pedestrian routes across the city, directly connecting the railway station to the city centre and creating a more fitting welcome to Coventry for those arriving by train.
Creating up to 15,000 jobs across a range of sectors, Friargate will attract inward investment and draw new visitors, create homes, encourage access to the city centre and bring new life and energy to Coventry. First phase office buildings will be available for occupation from 2017.
Together with a new 52,000sqm retail and leisure quarter being developed in the south of the city centre, this area is set to provide a new commercial focus for Coventry.
Another factor in the city’s renaissance is the success of its two universities – Coventry and Warwick. These award-winning academic centres attract students from around the globe, providing a qualified and skilled young workforce for businesses in Coventry.
Indeed, a recent survey looking at cities offering the best quality of life for 18 to 30-year-olds rated Coventry ahead of London, Prague and Brussels! The city was one of only four in the UK to feature in the Best Student Cities 2015 league table – with its nightlife, theatres, galleries, sporting and music venues providing a wide range of activities.
Finally, figures recently released by UK Trade and Investment show Coventry and Warwickshire is the most successful area outside London in attracting inward investment – further cementing its position as one of the most desirable business locations in the country.
So, the tide has well and truly turned for Coventry. It is making a big splash as a place that encourages businesses, draws students and provides a high quality of life for its residents – instead of criticism, the city is experiencing waves of approbation, increased interest from inward investors and a very optimistic outlook.