First person: Defending our decaying hometown – why Nottingham deserves better

Ben Tebbutt
X The Business Desk

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By Ben Tebbutt, director, Box Property

Recently, there was an article published in the Sunday Telegraph titled “Come and visit my decaying hometown, Michael Gove” from James Frayne, of Public First, which, let’s be honest, was pretty scathing when it came to Nottingham.

While obviously intended as a side swipe at the government’s levelling up agenda, on re-reading the article a second and third time I realised he had some valid points to make about our fair city.

James is a Nottingham man, he remembers the city as it was in its prime in the late 90s and early noughties – in the top 3 for UK retail. He lives in London now and by his own admission hasn’t been to Nottingham for a long time.

Let’s face facts, cities change, they evolve, they have ups and they have downs. But I couldn’t help feeling that Nottingham’s trajectory is a little more positive than we’re led to believe.

The Broadmarsh has been the topic of controversy for years, but it is now a once in a generation opportunity to make Nottingham a forward-thinking top UK city. We must get it right.

The walkway from the train station down Station Street past Hopkinson’s and new student village Vitra and then up through to the Lace Market via the green and pleasant grounds of the new Nottingham College and along the side of Nottingham Contemporary is a now breath of fresh air.

There has been an evident loss of footfall in key routes to and from the Broadmarsh on Listergate and Bridlesmith Gate and yes, there are some vacant shops, as a result of multiple factors – none more so than a global pandemic sealing up city centres and pushing consumers online. However, that is not to say that there’s not some good news around the corner. We are seeing more boards up as they are now actively being marketed.

A new generation of Nottingham landlords with real pride in the city and the ability to realise its potential are bringing about a significant rejuvenation of Bridlesmith Gate and Lister Gate, not some fund manager sat in London obsessed with valuations and book value, blinded by reality.

Box Property has quietly been working with clients to buy several buildings that we will be marketing at affordable rents. We’re already talking to a number of cool independent operators which will bring these locations back to life.

Exchange Arcade is another success story in the making. We’ve recently secured multiple new lettings in the beautiful building behind the Council House, attracting the likes of Sweaty Betty, Loake, Gong Cha and Dunkin’ Donuts to join the existing offer of Dr Martens, Bubble Vintage and Castle Fine Art. And, over the road at Flying Horse Walk, Gigi Botega has a super cool bar above the clothes shop and the caves have opened below.

We’ve been particularly active in Hockley. Bar Iberico is thriving, Vietnamese eatery Pho is opening soon, the ever-popular Bakehouse is making a city centre debut soon, from its roots in Sherwood. Fat Hippo has opened and outdone expectations, despite the pandemic and Bunk is thriving from multiple locations around the city.

Sneinton Market and the Avenues are booming. It’s cool, new, creative and independent. No disrespect to James, but it wouldn’t have entered his mind to explore those areas because he remembers them as they were not what they are now – as one location slips another booms!

One particular comment that intrigued me in the article was the mention of residents hiding in the suburbs.  People working from home still need the stimulation of a walk, a coffee or meeting with friends. Box Property has brought restaurant operator, Giggling Squid to West Bridgford and Wagamama, opening soon, both great additions.

And while West Bridgford is thriving, with a regular market, bars, eateries and a sought-after residential market, it doesn’t mean the city centre is dead.

James also makes the point that the levelling up agenda should not just be about investment infrastructure, it’s about the whole package. It advocates that money should be spent on making city centres more attractive places to do business.

We already have multi-award-winning bus services with Nottingham City Transport, Barton and the extensive tram network, plus park and ride connecting the suburbs with the city centre. As part of Nottingham’s aspiration to be the UK’s first carbon neutral city by 2028, we should be capitalising on this by giving people reasons to come into the city and help it thrive.

We can’t ignore that James makes some valid observations, yet it is important to understand where you are coming from and heading to. He has walked around the old and that’s what used to be cool, but there are some really interesting things happening to shape a positive and vibrant future for Nottingham.

By working together developers, agents, portfolio holders, Nottingham Bid, Invest in Nottingham and the Nottingham Project, to name but a few are helping to deliver practical and proactive support for businesses, but more can be done.

Let’s not ignore the fact that though, that if someone who has an infinity with Nottingham has such a poor opinion of the city upon his return, he will not be on his own. We are all responsible for changing that.

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