Bristol in the vanguard of a new breed of 21st century cities, international investors are told

February 23, 2015

Bristol has been showcased as one of Europe’s top investment hotspots with the claim that is helping create a new kind of city for the 21st century.

A gathering of major international investors in London heard that its creativity, innovation and independent spirit were pushing the city in a new direction and making it a crucible for new ideas.

And while Mayor of Bristol George Ferguson spoke of the attractiveness of the city to investors, the biggest sales pitch for Bristol came from the sibling of another high-profile mayor.

Leo Johnson, pictured, brother of London Mayor Boris and sustainability and climate change partner at accountants PwC, ticked off a list of reasons why Bristol was in the vanguard of change.

He lavished praise on Bristol as leading the transformation of cities from being based on Henry Ford-type mass industrial production and which work against the needs of their citizens to places centred on the generation of ideas and new ways of tackling issues such as climate change.

“We are at a pivotal moment in the history of cities,” he told the event, staged by inward investment agency Invest Bristol & Bath and Bristol-based law firm Burges Salmon at its London office.

“The city of Ford is falling apart. There is a unique culture in Bristol – there is something in its DNA – that makes it think differently in tackling critical issues such as energy, transport and food. I’m proud to be an ambassador for Bristol.”

He singled out Bristol’s pioneering attitude to recycling, its commitment to Fairtrade – and its ability to have fun.

“It has 120 street parties a year, it has a culture of doing stuff together,” he said, adding it was no wonder the mayors of major cities such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen had been on fact-finding visits recently.

Leo Johnson joined Mayor Ferguson, PwC West and Wales chairman Matthew Hammond, Olly Paine of property agents JLL and Andreas Lindelof of developer Skanska in addressing the audience of property industry figures and investors.

Mr Lindelof, whose firm is close to completing its 66 Queen Square office development in the heart of Bristol – its first such scheme in the UK – said: “My view of Bristol is that it is modern, trendy, dynamic and full of opportunities.”

Part of the focus of the event, which was also backed by RBS, was on the 70-hectares Bristol Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone (BTQEZ).

At the heart of the Enterprise Zone is the electrification of the Great Western Railway line, one of the largest rail infrastructure projects underway in the UK. Journey times to London to the region will be cut by 20 minutes, while frequency and capacity will be increase. The line will be complete by 2018.

It is also emerging as a new commercial heart for the city. PwC is to move from its office on the edge of Clifton to the recently competed showpiece 2 Glass Wharf office scheme – next to Burges Salmon’s HQ.

Mr Hammond said PwC saw Bristol as a dynamic city with strong clusters in aerospace, financial services and digital while its ability to retain graduates – 43% stay in the city after university, much higher than the national average – means it has a highly-skilled workforce and a vibrant culture.

That was reflected in the age profile of PwC’s Bristol office with most staff in their late 20s. That influenced where to site its new office as many employees lived centrally and walked or cycled to work.

Head of inward investment at Invest Bristol & Bath, Matthew Cross, said: “Demand has been boosted by the region’s world-class reputation for creative and digital production, hi-tech, low carbon, aerospace and advanced engineering, as well as its thriving financial and professional services sector, one of the largest in the UK.

“Named the only fast-growing, globally-significant tech cluster in the UK outside London by Centre for Cities/McKinsey & Co, the region was recently chosen to host a testbed for cutting-edge Future Cities technology, including driverless cars, so it is no surprise that businesses in this industry are showing high levels of interest in investing in the region.”

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