Alan Clawley on the latest city centre property developments.
It has been announced that the accountancy firm Price Waterhouse Cooper is the first tenant to sign up to occupy Number One Chamberlain Square in Paradise in 2019. But rather than attracting a global corporation to set up its head office as its ‘preferred location’ as Albert Bore had hoped when he first got the idea of redeveloping Paradise Circus, the council will have to be content to have PWC move its existing 1,400 Birmingham staff a few hundred metres from Cornwall Street to Paradise. PWC will only rent the top four and a half floors of the new building leaving the remaining seven and a half without a taker as yet.
PWC will have calculated the precise financial benefit of moving from its present city centre offices when its lease expires but the Council is not likely to disclose the details of the deal despite the involvement of public money. One could guess the figures from the state of the office rental market but as the company is neither down-sizing nor up-sizing we can safely assume that it has been made an offer it can’t refuse to entice it to move to a building that doesn’t yet exist.
Paradise is one of the City Centre Enterprise Zones set up by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership. One of the first decisions of this democratically unaccountable organisation run by businessmen was to release funding of £61 million to pay the Argent to reduce all the buildings in Paradise Circus to rubble and to needlessly divert traffic round one side of the roundabout. There are also financial advantages to business when they locate in a Regeneration Zone.
In May 2014 the Chancellor announced in his Budget that the deadline for accessing business rate discounts and enhanced capital allowance on Enterprise Zones would be extended by three years. This means that businesses have until March 2018 to locate in an EZ to be able to access business rate discounts which could be worth £275,000 per business over 5 years. It would be most surprising if PWC were to miss out on this. Is it beating the deadline by signing a tenancy agreement in 2016?
The fact that the first tenants of Paradise are merely moving from just down the road is not only an indictment of Albert Bore’s ‘global repositioning’ concept that he used to justify the demolition of the Central Library and the huge publicly-funded cost of relocation, but it flouts the spirit if not the letter of the EZ policy. The failure to get planning permission for one or more very tall towers on the site further invalidates his original concept. So whilst Number One has been designed by a top London architect Eric Parry it is neither very tall, iconic or even memorable. A global headquarters building would have to be all of these things.
Enterprise Zones are meant to stimulate much-needed economic regeneration in areas that have suffered dramatic decline over many years. They are not meant to encourage highly profitable businesses to move from one set of satisfactory premises to similar premises in the Zone. Moving from Cornwall Street to Paradise will not help PWC to run its business more efficiently or effectively nor will it regenerate Paradise Circus. But it will help PWC to make more profit, at least in the short term. And for now, the developers can breathe a sigh of relief and hope that others will follow in its footsteps.