This year housing, infrastructure, financial investment and skills were the most pertinent topics, with the next generation lying at the heart of each candidate’s aspirations.
Currently 40% of Birmingham’s population is under 25; therefore, questions were raised on how the mayoral candidates plan to provide adequate housing, effective transport links and boost the local economy for the next generation.
Liberal Democrat candidate and Director of Birmingham City University, Beverley Nielson highlighted her plan to provide free public transport to those under 25 around the city. She also announced a £1billion innovation fund, partly funded through government and private investment, as a means of encouraging and incentivising young people to link them to SMEs and manufacturing so young people are equipped with the skills that they, and the region needs for the economy of the future.
Questioning whether the Liberal Democrat will have access to a £1billion fund, the UKIP candidate, Pete Durnell’s focused on digital infrastructure. Government plans to roll out nationwide broadband access over the next five years. According to Pete Durnell: ‘The West Midlands needs to ensure it is at the forefront of the [broadband] rollout.’ In an attempt to alleviate the current strains on local infrastructure he also questioned the need for office space. When technology is freely accessible greater working from home packages need to be on offer. Latest results from the RICS Commercial Market survey state that more commercial office space is needed to meet current demand across the West Midlands.
Conservative candidate, Andy Street looked at a threefold plan. Including getting young people on the housing ladder, easier transport links, and providing the skills that our younger people need. Delivering housing to help people fulfill their ambitions and creating a transport revolution to provide the public transport the demographic wants. But the main thing for the conservative candidate is “making sure our region’s young people have the right skills for the competitive economy that we are going to govern in the future.”
Despite these plans it was the idea from questioner, Daniel G. Wilson of Pegasus Group who received the greatest appreciation on the night. He commented: “We don’t know what the needs of the region will be in 10 -15 years’ time, therefore we need to work with the younger generations and have them engaged with the local authorities, LEPs and the mayor to make the region work long term. A group of advisors from people under the age of thirty should be involved in helping to influence how the future of the region’s built environment and policy is shaped.”
Chair of the West Midlands Great Debate and former RICS President, Louise Brooke-Smith FRICS commented: “Year on year this event delivers insight into how industry professionals can collaboratively change, for the better, the regional skyline, delivering innovative planning, and infrastructure and housing schemes. This year was no different. The future mayor needs to be able to deliver effective outcomes devolved decision making needs and this needs to be backed by strong regional leadership underpinned by regional strategies that reflect explicit local needs.”
All candidates may have different plans for how the future of the West Midlands will be shaped but all agree that without the expertise of the built environment they can’t deliver the region that the West Midlands deserves. Currently the region out performs all others in terms of construction work, commercial office space and house building making it a lifeline for the UK and economy. With so many opportunities and challenges ahead where and how this money is spent is the biggest test facing the mayoral candidates.
Another opportunity to quiz the mayoral candidates will be at RICS Infrastructure for Growth conference on Tuesday 14 February 2017 at MacDonald Burlington Hotel in Birmingham. To book your place go to rics.org/infrawestmids