PUBLISHED: 20:52 01 February 2010 | UPDATED: 15:05 20 February 2013
Derby was recently crowned the UK's leading high-technology city, Ashley Franklin investigates the plans for its future.
Are you ready for 'Derby's 21st century renaissance'? Those are the words of Michael Copestake, Chairman of Marketing Derby. Among his other words in 'Message from the Chairman' in Marketing Derby's 2007 Annual Review, Michael Copestake refers to Derby as 'Home of the Industrial Revolution'. However, far from dwelling on the past, he strides out to extol the city's recent crowning as 'the UK's leading high-technology city' and its thriving aerospace and rail technology based economy. He further states the facts that Derby is 'the region's safest, best-educated city with the highest average earnings.' Such unabashed optimism might remind you of that false dawn in the mid-90s when Derby City Partnership had visions of making Derby a 'Top 10 City' in the UK by 2020 at a time when doubting Derbeians believed the city would forever be outshone even by its regional neighbours Nottingham, Sheffield, Stoke and Leicester, never mind the rest of the UK.
However, in this 21st century dawn, Derby is quite clearly coming out of the shadows. All those cranes cutting the skyline should have told you that. There has been - and will continue to be - massive development in the city. But it isn't all new bricks on the block: Derby's traditional beating heart - its historic 'old town' now called the Cathedral Quarter - is pumping with regenerated life. With new branding comes the Cathedral BID, officially marking out the area as a Business Improvement District, with a similar scheme likely to be launched for The Lanes, another re-branded area of the city.
So, this '21st century renaissance' doesn't simply refer to Westfield. In fact, that new shopping complex is just a part of a 2billion investment programme which will, as Michael Copestake further states, 'improve the city centre's retail, leisure and commercial offer, in order to help Derby retain more of its created wealth.' You may see Westfield as a retail leviathan which has sucked the life out of the rest of the city where, for sure, there are some empty stores and reduced foot flow, but Westfield spells good news rather than bad karma for the Cathedral Quarter and Lanes, according to John Forkin, Director of Marketing Derby. An illuminating discussion with John revealed that we should no longer refer to our city as 'little ol' Derby'.
'What we've come to understand now is that being a city is not about size,' declares John.'It's about attitude and provision. Our ambition is not to be better than or to overtake Nottingham, Leicester or any other city. It's about growing the city for our home market.'
John reveals that Derby was losing the market share of its local people, and that Westfield has begun to arrest this problem, with potential long-term benefits for the Cathedral Quarter and Lanes. So, think not leviathan but gallant knight on trusty steed.
'We're a wealth-creating, big business city,' states John. 'Look at our leading companies - Rolls-Royce, Toyota, Citigroup, Bombardier and now Westfield. That doesn't sound like "little ol' Derby" to me. We have the highest average earnings in the region - 30,000 a year - which is 5,000 up on Nottingham's average salary, and 7,000 up on the national average. That's the positive; the negative was that we make the money but go and spend it elsewhere. If you go outside the city circumference to a ring that includes places like Duffield, Findern and Etwall, "market retention" was worrying: 75 per cent of the disposable income in that ring was going to Nottingham, Sheffield and, more recently, Birmingham. Go into the next outer ring - Matlock, Ilkeston, Burton, etc - and we were leaking 99 per cent. In other words, only one per cent was going into Derby. That's why we're trying to attract 2 billion of investment.' It's Derby's wealth creation that attracted Westfield's investment, and the significance of that move by this hitherto little-known company should not be underestimated: based in Sydney, Australia, Westfield is the world's number one property retail company, and Derby's is the first centre it has built in Europe.
Why Derby? 'Because they saw 1.3 million people in Derby's trading area with a 5.1 billion spend,' explains John Forkin. 'Westfield has already started to win back customers. Visits to Derby had declined to 16 million per year. Now we're looking optimistically at 25 million - 50 per cent more people in the city. That's Phase One. Phase Two will be the good news for the Cathedral Quarter and Lanes. We'll be looking to retain those Westfield customers and spread them and, as the weather improves, they'll walk out of the covered mall and discover what else is out there.'
Key to this is the BID scheme. Business Improvement District legislation was introduced to cities and towns in England and Wales over three years ago. 'Essentially, it's a way of galvanising an area,' states BID Chairman Chris Brown whose business, estate agents Boxall Brown & Jones, is in the heart of the Cathedral Quarter. 'With Westfield opening there was a realisation that if nothing was done this other half of the city was in danger of fading away,' says Chris. The official wording in the Business Plan states a desire 'to establish the Cathedral Quarter as a destination which offers specialist quality retail, a diverse range of quality leisure and cultural activity and established respected professional services in an attractive historical setting.'
The beauty of BID schemes is that they are driven by participating businesses. Indeed, the Cathedral Quarter BID Business Plan was drawn up and voted for by the 'stakeholders' - and by a huge majority, too: 85 per cent. All initiatives are funded through a levy based on business rate payments with each business paying 1.5 per cent of their rateable value. 'It's a modest investment in a massive scheme,' Chris Brown believes. 'In fact, if you're a small business in the Cathedral Quarter, the daily cost is equivalent to a postage stamp. Even for the very largest business it's less than the price of a cinema ticket.'
So how will this money be spent? Generally, it will go into improving and promoting the Cathedral Quarter. Specifically, there are plans to introduce a Street Warden, maps, signage, information boards, planters and hanging baskets, and better street cleaning, street lighting and toilet facilities. In voting for and paying for all these initiatives, participating businesses can feel they're a Chamber of Trade with teeth, with all the new services being over and above what the City Council already provides.
There are BID success stories the length and breadth of the country. 'Take Kingston upon Thames as a great example,' enthuses Chris. 'There are visible improvements all over the town and their streets are cleaned every day. I also discovered that the taxi proprietors funded a kiosk in the market place which is manned 24 hours a day and, as a result, taxi turnover has gone up 24 per cent.'
What will further enhance the Cathedral Quarter is the Derby Cityscape plans for developments in the city, many of which will be in the Cathedral Quarter itself. John Forkin reveals that not one office has been built in central Derby for almost 20 years. 'Daytime trading in Derby is very poor,' observes John. 'Walk around the city during lunchtime and it doesn't actually represent the demographics of the wider area. In other words, there aren't enough people in suits and with money. And why? Because there aren't enough offices. Happily, we've now got investors looking at Derby who wouldn't have been interested without Westfield. I consider the city centre as the Pride Park of this decade.'
In the same way that Derby County's new stadium was a catalyst for business developments in Pride Park, the Cathedral Quarter seems to have encouraged businesses similarly in the city. 'The Cathedral Quarter is the first area to which we take potential investors in the city,' points out Derby City Council leader, Cllr Chris Williamson. 'It's always been the traditional heart of the city and the quality of the built environment is a great attraction.' As John Forkin reveals, all the major developments are in or around the Cathedral Quarter and, better still, they're 'filling all the holes that have long been unattractive.' Amongst these 'high spec' buildings will be 20million of office space in the former Full Street police station; a 16million redevelopment of the former Prince's supermarket into retail premises, apartments and offices; 60,000 square feet of offices in City Gate House; and 50,000 square feet of offices in Cathedral Road. Even the nightmare known as Duckworth Square looks set for comprehensive redevelopment.
There are other developments, notably along the Derwent: the redesign of Cathedral Green - with, it is hoped, a fresh emphasis on the use of the adjacent Silk Mill - and after many delays and much deliberation, the creation of Riverlights. 'When I was a kid, we used to go to the river because there was a market there,' recalls John Forkin. 'However, I discovered recently that my two teenage daughters didn't even know Derby has a river running through it. But then why would they? There's nothing there, certainly not for them. Not yet, anyway.' Riverlights will at last see the erection of a new bus station along with a casino, shops, bars and restaurants. 'This will be a really attractive way out of Westfield,' John points out. 'Derby will then resemble a lot of nice cities in Europe where you can go to the shops but also walk along the river and sit down at a caf.' John also pointed to the new pedestrian bridge over St Alkmund's Way, a structure designed to reflect the silk industry with its metal sides 'billowing' like fabric. 'There's another route to the Cathedral Quarter,' points out John, 'so the river is important.'
The Riverlights project will also see the building of two hotels - a Holiday Inn and Hilton Hampton. After years of inadequate hotel provision, it's as if Derby is making up for lost time with The Jury's Inn also bringing a 226-bedroom hotel to the former Bridgegate Motors site (which will also include 89 apartments), the possibility of St Helen's House being approved as a hotel, and the Finesse Hotel Group opening the 50-bedroom 4 million Cathedral Quarter Hotel on the site of the former Police Museum right in the traditional heart of town in St Mary's Gate. Finesse Hotels' Managing Director James Blick says he espied the great potential of the Cathedral Quarter several years ago and has worked closely with organisations like Marketing Derby in bringing the hotel to this part of town. The hotel will be classed as a 'boutique hotel', one which is largely defined by its intimate, individual environment and personalised service. 'Compared to the usual corporate chain hotels, all Finesse properties are housed in Grade II listed buildings because we believe character and individuality are extremely important,' explains Rebecca Chrichlow of Finesse. 'What's more, our staff-to-guest ratio is usually higher than a standard hotel as we also believe it's the little things that count: not just remembering guests' names but their favoured tipple in the bar, how they like their steak cooked and what newspaper they read. We treat each guest as an individual rather than a reservation number.' With reservations being taken from 1st April, interest has reportedly been 'fantastic'.
Around the corner, just ahead of the Cathedral Quarter Hotel, there will be the completion of a 5 million extension to the Joseph Wright Sixth Form Centre. Sometime in the summer, adding to the Big Screen in the Market Place will be the two screens and two galleries housed in the 10.4 million QUAD Arts and Media Centre. 'The Cathedral Quarter already gives a unique and very special aspect to Derby,' states QUAD director Keith Jeffrey, 'and QUAD will give people a further and entirely different reason to visit the area. You can be sure, too, that we are putting together a highly ambitious and very accessible programme of art and film. There'll be activities for the whole family and also a fantastic new caf/bar.' Westfield will soon introduce its own plush multiplex cinema but Keith isn't concerned. On the contrary, QUAD's programme of independent, world and quality Hollywood cinema will point it up even further as a genuine alternative, focusing largely on the already established needs of the cineastes who have patronised the Metro over the last quarter century.
Developments like QUAD are very encouraging to the Cathedral Quarter as it kick-starts its BID scheme. 'We know Derby is not a major city but as someone born less than a mile from the Cathedral and a Derby resident all my life, I believe this city has long been guilty of under-selling itself,' pronounces BID Chairman Chris Brown as he sits in his Irongate office at Boxall Brown & Jones where he proudly displays atmospheric Chris Skripek paintings of both Derby Cathedral and Guildhall. 'Let's face it,' he continues, 'the Industrial Revolution happened less than 500 yards from where we're sitting. We could really make more of that, especially with the Cathedral Quarter being promoted as a destination area.'
Take the city's wealth-creating economy (in terms of job creation, Derby is fourth in the UK out of 56 cities) and the fact that 12 per cent of Derby's working population is occupied in high technology (making it number one in the country): couple those statistics with all the aforementioned office developments and one could possibly see Derby on the cusp of its own industrial revolution. Chris Brown can add something further: 'The other exciting part of the BID scheme is to encourage graduates from a now thriving University of Derby to stay on in the city and transfer their expertise back into our economy.'
'Let's not forget Derby's excellent road, rail and air links,' continues Chris. 'We have the M1, a link to St Pancras that now takes you direct to Paris and an international airport on its doorstep. This is encouragement again for people to come and reside and work here. It should also encourage them to visit us. After all, half the population of England lives less than an hour away from Derby. So, it's about time we started celebrating this city and particularly its most attractive part - the Cathedral Quarter. After all these years, this BID scheme means that not only can we preserve what we've got here, we can actively promote it too.'
Indeed City Council leader Chris Williamson sees all the Derby developments, and especially the hotel building, as key to establishing the Cathedral Quarter and Lanes as not just a retail destination but also a tourist city. 'Up till now, we have simply not had quality hotel space but I now believe Derby could have genuine appeal as a city break with the retail offer we have, the historical interest and with Derby being the gateway to the Peak.'
John Forkin of Derby Marketing couldn't agree more on the relationship of town and country: 'I sometimes call Derby the 15-minute city as it takes only 15 minutes to get out to delightful countryside. But we now have an opportunity to shout about the city as well, especially the Cathedral Quarter. We're like any football club, really: you need a good result to give you confidence. We've had a few good results. Investment is all about confidence - Westfield's investment was 340million and we're more or less at that level of investment outside of Westfield. So, confidence in Derby is up. We no longer need to be so diffident about Derby. These are exciting times.'