Circle Square, in

Manchester, combines green, living, working and leisure spaces

working on but it requires incentives to invest – Jeff says zero-emission buses cost twice the amount of diesel models – and policies that prioritise public transport above cars. He’s also a proponent of the mobility-as-a-service concept, in which

different modes of transport – including buses, trams, ride-hailing taxis and pool schemes for cars, scooter and bikes – are integrated into a single interface for users to help join up every element of a journey. “It’s a great ideal for many people to not have to keep up with the

running costs of having a car, but public transport needs to be there for when people need it,” he says. “And it has to be fast, direct, accessible and clean.”

“WHEN A MAN is tired of London, he is tired of life”, goes the famous quote by the writer Samuel Johnson. Interesting, then, that 103,000 more people left the capital in 2018 than

moved in for the first time since the ONS began collecting data six years earlier, as inflated house prices and high crime rates drove people to smaller cities and towns. Those same areas that had been facing bleak futures pre-Covid due to

But he admits the hit to city centres from coronavirus, and the resulting changes to working and shopping habits, could end their role as the hub they’ve been since medieval times. He adds: “Where people live is where we will need to have pubs, rather

than where they work, so there’s strong arguments now for putting them in suburban areas.” The lack of willing from office workers to return to the daily commute –

only 17% had done so in August, according to the Centre for Cities – is reflected by many large firms refusing to make employees go back full time. The impact on the office sector is stark, with the Royal Institution of

Chartered Surveyors’ UK commercial property survey for Q2 2020 finding demand for office space in the East Midlands fell by 68% and 93% predicted companies will scale back their space requirements over the next two years. The picture was bleakest for retail, with an 85% fall in demand. Jeff Counsell, managing director of Heanor-based bus operator

trentbarton, is concerned what these trends mean for public transport. He noted how the bus services returning towards pre-Covid levels

quickest are those serving the logistics sites in and around East Midlands Airport, with little recovery in morning city centre travel. “Cities are looking more and more at out-of-town employment, and the

town and city centres are going to have to be very much focused on people living in them, as opposed to moving into them to do something,” he says. “That may be transport-independent. “Finding the missing link for how they attract people into city centres is

going to be key. It needs to be a really clean, attractive and pollution-free place to live and relax. Our challenge is that any transport services operating in city centres must be zero-emission – but this comes with a cost.” This is something many cities, including those in the East Midlands, are

empty shops, unemployment and under-funded public services could now benefit from former big city-dwellers who no longer need to live near their offices in a “new normal” of remote working. Pfbb’s Ian Ferguson is working with a BID in a Berkshire town that is

home to many multinational corporates, which are now looking to significantly reduce head office space and decant employees into smaller cells of regional offices so skills are found at a localised level instead. It follows the approach of BT, which in 2018 announced it would leave its

London headquarters after 150 years and move staff into 30 regional hubs to save £1.5bn. Ian feels the days of building a 40,000 sq ft office space and expecting a

single occupier to move in are pretty much gone. He expects to see more shared office and mixed-use developments like Manchester’s Circle Square, which combines living, leisure and communal workspace, but in towns rather than just cities. Artisan manufacturers could also fill disused storage space above shops. “Businesses were already recognising the opportunities for innovative dynamic discussion in shared office spaces,” he says. “Not necessarily just start-ups but well-established companies where they could mix with like- minded people from other business cultures, so this provides opportunities for smaller towns to attract fairly significant global brand names. “There’s certainly going to be a reduction in commuting long distance as

people start to think they can live and work locally, having realised during lockdown the sky is blue and the water is clearer outside cities.”

ROB DAY IS sat in a spacious breakout room within a bright, ultra-modern 3,500 sq ft office in a business park on the outskirts of Ashby-de-la- Zouch.

business network October 2020 47

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