City entertainment area boss looks to future

How working from home could accelerate youthful and residential city centres.

The push towards working from home during COVID-19 could end up helping to make the UK’s city centres more residential, younger and exciting.

That’s the view of Mike Olley, general manager of Westside Business Improvement District in Birmingham, who has noted the massive impact that the lockdown during the pandemic has made on offices in his area of the city.

And he has predicted that the long term result could have its positives, helping to meet some of the demand for tens of thousands of new homes and student accommodation.

Mr Olley said: “The Coronavirus means many managers have come to terms with the fact that people are often more efficient in the comfort of their own homes, with simple management tools allowing for greater supervision.

“This means that for many, working from home has become a better option that works. Indeed, one in five of us could well largely disappear from the office and therefore the area the office operates from.

“Will this have a negative impact on our city and local centres? I would argue not. Birmingham has a current housing crisis and an immediate demand for at least 90,000 homes. Largely for our young.

“We also have a burgeoning and unmet student accommodation demand. The market will step in and supply both these needs.

“Much of it will be in Westside, building on the youthful nature the area has offered for many years now. This will also be driven by the adjustments in the property market resulting from a largely generational shift to homeworking.

“As a good percentage of the more seasoned of the work force change to home working, this will leave space to be filled by the new generation, fulfilled by different work and socialising environments.

“I see the swish new tram that’s arriving very soon all the way to Five Ways as presenting a dynamic shift in the feel of the area. Wider pavements will present fresh opportunities for our businesses.

“The feel of the area will become more bohemian. The wave of residential skyscrapers that are emerging and planned will add to the spectacular skyline and feel. Coffee lounges and spacious, unconventional office accommodation will supplement and complete their needs.”

Mr Olley added: “Whilst we may fear change, we know from our experience of it that things only ever get better. For many, homeworking is here to stay, and our cities could soon become more youthful and residential as a result.”