As in most Building regional surveys, how you’re doing depends on where you’re doing it.
But this time we have a reversal of fortune, with the north burning rubber and flashing its headlights at everyone in front, London in the crawl lane hoping the engine doesn’t conk out and Ireland waiting glumly for the tow truck to arrive …


The North-west is a tale of two cities – Manchester and Liverpool. And they are both booming. The cities are to be home to some of the UK’s most significant design projects of the past few years. In Manchester, Denton Corker Marshall has been selected to design a £55m PFI court complex, the country’s biggest judicial job since the construction of the Royal Courts of Justice in 1870. Malaysian architect Ken Yeang has confirmed to Building that he is considering a tower for the city, and Will Alsop has just unveiled plans for “New Islington”, a 1400-home regeneration project in the east of the city. In Liverpool, Lords Rogers and Foster are in two of the four consortiums battling it out for the £100m “Fourth Grace” cultural project. In total, new construction work in north-west England is predicted to be touching £4bn by 2004 – up nearly £500m from 2000. Much of this is based on the success of the commercial sector. Jonathan Falkingham, chief executive of north-west developer Urban Splash, says half the company’s portfolio is commercial and that its much-lauded 100,000 ft2 Matchworks office development was fully let before construction was complete. But Abros director Ben Denton, a financial adviser who is working on Manchester’s £90m PFI housing project, says there are some differences between Liverpool and Manchester: “Manchester has seen a massive improvement in infrastructure. Liverpool came from such a low start that although it is relatively booming, it is behind Manchester.”

Liverpool’s recent growth has actually meant that the city is struggling to cope with the sheer volume of construction work coming its way. Sir Joe Dwyer, former chairman of Wimpey Group and current chairman of the Liverpool Vision urban regeneration company, has set up the Merseyside construction initiative. Working with the Construction Industry Training Board and local authorities, it is hoping to get more residents into construction and improve work opportunities for local construction firms. Dwyer employed Liverpool-based consultant Amion to assess the scale of the problem in Liverpool. Amion partner Graham Russell says: “The initiative is trying to address the significant growth in construction on the back of Liverpool Vision and the amount of PFI work, such as Jarvis’ schools project.”

The first initiative to come from Amion’s report is Fusion 21, whereby registered social landlords are being encouraged to pool their maintenance work to enable local firms to bid for larger, long-lasting contracts. Mark Leftly

  • Bill Taylor, manager, Olympic Taxis, Charlton, Manchester
    How busy are you?
    Actually, we’re finding that we’re extremely busy at the moment. How’s the area’s economy doing?
    That’s just it – the economy is looking good, so we’re getting lots of work. Is there much construction work going on?
    Locally, there are lots of flats going up and older buildings coming down. Where are the development hot spots?
    It sounds to me as if the Manchester tram extension is going to be the next big development here in the Charlton area. Have you had any famous customers?
    We often drive actors from Coronation Street. Most of them are quite grumpy, actually. You say “How are you doing?” and they barely respond.
  • London

    London’s commercial sector has slowed rapidly and the signs are it could be a couple of years before it picks up. “The next 12 months will be a very nervous time,” according to Richard Apse, a partner in quantity surveyor RLF’s London office. He says that, although there are a number of big projects in progress – such as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link at Stratford and office developments in Paddington Basin – smaller firms are suffering from a dearth of small-scale commercial projects. What is more, there is precious little on the horizon to replace the current crop of blockbuster jobs when they come to an end. Steve Smith, Mowlem’s managing director of major and special projects, says: “Most of our customers are saying they’re not doing much in major commercial development. When the current jobs come on stream, there will be lots of overcapacity.”

    The DTI reports that London office orders were down 20% in the first half of 2002. With office rents falling 10-20% and millions of square feet of new office space under construction in Docklands, developers have good reason to be cautious. Ryan Emmett, an economist at the RICS, says London-based industries such as financial services, IT, media and PR are faring worse than the economy as a whole, further depressing the capital’s office market. He says: “At the moment it’s an economy of two halves – there is a strong domestic side with high consumer spending and low unemployment, but business investment is down 9% year on year.” The weak corporate sector is bound to affect household spending eventually – the big question for housebuilders is when and how much. According to Emmett: “The office market will have a knock-on effect on the housing market at some point, but nothing from the estate agents is pointing to a crash.” The latest figures from Hometrack show a monthly price rise of 0.5% in August compared with a peak of 2.5% in May, and housebuilders report that there are still plenty of investors wanting to buy properties off-plan. The flow of public sector remains strong, but RLF’s Richard Apse argues that the high barriers to entry into the PFI market mean that, like big commercial projects, public spending only benefits a few major players. Matthew Richards

  • Phil Little, driver, Station Cars
    How busy are you?
    It’s pretty quiet on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but apart from that it’s okay. How’s the area’s economy doing?
    Not bad – there’s work out there if you want it. Is there much construction work going on?
    Yeah, there’s loads – just look around, cranes everywhere. Where are the development hot spots?
    Canary Wharf and pretty much everywhere else on the Isle of Dogs. Have you had any famous customers?
    The only one recently is that famous kids’ TV presenter, I can’t remember his name. He didn’t tip me, even though he’s famous. But Samantha Fox used to live on the Isle of Dogs, so we used to drive her around all the time.
  • Scotland

    When looking at the £3.7bn Scottish market, thoughts immediately turn to the urban centres of Edinburgh and Glasgow. Unfortunately, so do the thoughts of regional Scottish builders, who are leaving areas such as the Borders, Fife, Perth and Tayside to pick up the higher wages available in the vast metropolises. Grahame Barn, director the Federation of Master Builders in Scotland, says the attraction of Edinburgh and Glasgow is a growing problem for regional firms: “Employers in the regions are having to look at the terms and conditions they are offering their men.”

    There is only so long that Edinburgh and Glasgow will be able to rely on workers from outside their city boundaries to cope with construction demand – a poll by the FMB suggests that 75% of construction firms in Scotland are finding that their workload is either growing or remaining constant. For example, Glasgow is to be the location of the UK’s biggest stock transfer, with housing associations taking over responsibility for council housing maintenance over a 20-year period. Glasgow council foresees a crisis and is working with the Construction Industry Training Board on training courses for the unemployed in skills such as bricklaying and joinery. PFI spending is also set to skyrocket, with £1.2bn education projects due to be rolled out over the next 12 months and a probable £300m redevelopment of Southern General Hospital in south Glasgow. David Stark, a director at Glasgow-based architect Keppie Design who has worked on a £150m hospital PFI in Edinburgh, warns that the skills crisis is likely to bare its teeth in the main markets as early as next year: “There’s more PFI work than the industry can cope with across the UK, but this hasn’t quite happened in Scotland yet because of the slight lull in PFI work here over the last couple of years.”

    One market that has begun to slip is the commercial sector, which is set to dip below £1bn in value in 2003 – two years ago it was worth more than £1.3bn. But Tom Bostock, managing director of architect Reiach and Hall, believes that despite being massively overbudget, the Miralles-designed Scottish parliament building in Edinburgh will help to buttress the commercial market by attracting major occupiers to the area. “There is a level of activity on the eastern side of Scotland that there otherwise would not have been,” he says, and points to the practice’s work on a £6m building in West Port for developer AMA (New Town) as evidence of a reviving market. Tom Broughton

  • John Sinall, Driver, City Plus Cars, Edinburgh
    How busy are you?
    Most taxi firms around here are normally pretty busy. How’s the area’s economy doing?
    Things are looking good, especially here in Edinburgh. Is there much construction work going on?
    Well, there’s the Holyrood parliament building. Because it is such a controversial building project and attracted so much press attention, everybody wants to see it – that has certainly helped our fares. Has anything unusual happened in your cab recently?
    Not really, although I have picked up quite a few construction workers recently on Friday nights, after they’ve been to the pub. I’ve had a couple of hard hats left in the back of the cab, and on one Friday night I even had a hard hat filled with sick left.
  • South-east

    The market in the South-east is running smoothly across most sectors, with the exception of the office sector, which has ground to a halt. Overall, construction spending is expected to continue to rise 4% a year in 2003 and 2004, comparing reasonably well with this year’s predicted growth of 5%. Although private housing starts are not expected to increase until 2004, the South-east is enjoying almost double the expenditure on private housing of any other region in the country. The government has earmarked areas such as the Thames Gateway for new housing and Ward Homes has started work on 1700 homes in Iwade, Kent. In Reading, infrastructure works are under way at a housing and mixed-use development at Chatham Street that will eventually be worth several hundred million pounds. Public housing is also healthy thanks to increased government funding. Chris Durkin, chief operating officer for Willmott Dixon’s housing division, says: “It is incredibly busy at the moment, primarily because there are so many streams of funding going in, such as stock transfers.” North Hertfordshire council has just transferred 8700 homes to a housing association, which will bring £50m worth of refurbishment work. The non-residential public sector is strong too. Davis Langdon & Everest’s Oxford office is busy relocating the Radcliff Infirmary in Oxford and has two other healthcare projects in the pipeline. Meanwhile, multidisciplinary consultant JacobsGibb has mopped up some big schemes in the west of the region: it has just received planning approval for the £60m Diamond project at Didcot, the central laboratory for the Research Council and is working on 14 new stations between Ealing Broadway and Reading for CrossRail. The only blot on the horizon is the office market. Paul Coomber of DL&E’s Oxford office says: “Commercial has dipped quite a bit; clients who had projects ready to go have shelved them, there is a general feeling that people are not committing themselves at the moment, especially speculative office developers.” He says only prelet schemes are going ahead, a theme echoed by Crispin Wride at JacobsGibb who says, “A number of projects in the Thames Valley have been put on hold.” Even so, people’s appetite for shopping seems undented. A £30m retail scheme in Harlow is on site and Croydon’s 74,000 m2 Centrale retail development is scheduled to open next September. Thomas Lane

  • Peter Keeble, Latchmans, Reading
    How busy are you?
    Not as busy as we would like to be, but it will pick up again now the summer’s over and people are back from their holidays. How is the area’s economy doing?
    It’s booming – we’ve doubled in size because of all the activity. A taxi firm offering a decent service in Reading can’t fail because demand is so high. Is there much construction work going on?
    Yeah, loads. There’s lots of private housing, every vacant plot is taken up and flats seem to go up overnight. Where are the development hot spots?
    They’re everywhere. If a plot comes up, a builder snaps it up and puts flats on it. There are a lot more buildings going up in the centre of town too. Has anything unusual happened in your cab recently?
    We were doing a removal and went into a house to move a washing machine. Later we were paid a visit by the police – the chap had been carrying out a burglary.
  • South-west

    Construction growth in the South-west is slackening, with the commercial sector acting as the prime laggard. New work is expected to grow by a relatively modest 5.1% over the next two years, compared with the heady 15% growth rate of last year. Ian Parfitt, senior partner at quantity surveyor RPA, which has an office in Bristol, says clients are already anticipating a fall-off in the commercial and retail sectors, although the public sector is expected to perform well. “Clients are beginning to talk about the possibility of a slowdown in retail and commercial – but strong growth in the public sector means most are optimistic about construction’s prospects in the South-west region,” he says. Public-sector growth will be led by large PFI projects, including the £68m second phase of the Cornwall schools project, which is due to go out to the PFI market this month. Other big education PFI schemes that will see lift-off by the end of the year include the £80m Swindon schools project, a £38m schools scheme in Exeter and a £50m project in Bristol. The news for the commercial sector is not all bad. Stephen Atkinson, director at architect Fitzroy Robinson in Bristol, says projects such as the planned £500m extension to Broadmead, the city’s main shopping area, and a major mixed-use scheme proposed for Temple Quay North should help counter the lack of smaller projects. “There’s no doubt that there is movement in the commercial sector and some of the largest projects planned for Bristol are retail-led,” he says. The private housing market, on the other hand, is expected to contract by 0.3% by 2004 after the market for new build peaked last year. John Bignall, architect at the Architecture and Planning Group, says housebuilders appear to be getting nervous about the market for new flats in particular. “Planners seem to be getting worried about the number of flats planned for the city’s centre – so housebuilders are moving away from this type of development.”

    Other large projects soon to kick off in the South-west include the Percy Thomas Architects £40m main campus building for the Combined Universities of Cornwall, the £105m third phase of the Eden Project, also in Cornwall, a £10m medical school in Tamar Science School near Plymouth and a £16m magistrates’ court for Exeter. Victoria Madine

  • Mike Bullock, Bristol District Cars
    How busy are you?
    We’re busier than ever – all day every day. How’s the area’s economy doing?
    Bristol’s gone from strength to strength over the past five years. More and more companies are relocating here, which is good news for us. Is there much construction work going on?
    There’s a lot of commercial developments going up in the centre – and everywhere I look they seem to be building new flat developments. What are the development hotspots?
    The Temple Quay area is a real hotspot, and there are some big residential projects in Cannons Marsh. Has anything unusual happened in your cab recently?
    No not really – lots of drunken youths at the weekend; the same old story!
  • North-east

    “The North-east is buzzing,” says Steve Armitt, a partner at cost consultant Turner & Townsend. It’s a sentiment backed by George Penrice, a partner in surveyor Sanderson Townend & Gilbert. “The market is almost out of control – you wonder how much longer it can go on,” he says. Their observation is confirmed by the Construction Confederation’s figures, which reveal that the area has the strongest construction workload in the country. Newcastle, the powerhouse of the region, is leading the way in commercial work. “We operate in the commercial, industrial and leisure sectors and we are finding a lot of enquires in the North-east,” says Keith Irvine, managing director of Metnor Construction, which is working on the £12m redevelopment of Newcastle Falcons Rugby Club. And Andrew Clark, partner in architect Red Box Design, agrees. “Things are booming in the commercial sector,” he says. His firm’s £40m extension to the Northern Rock’s offices on the edge of the city is just approaching completion and Clark puts this rush of activity down to “a shortage of decent quality offices in the region”. With the Baltic Arts Centre now open and construction of the Foster-designed Gateshead Music Centre under way, the River Tyne is the focus for much of the region’s private residential construction. “There is more activity now on both sides of the Tyne than at any time in the 15 years I’ve been in Newcastle,” says Sanderson’s Penrice. Most construction activity is concentrated in Gateshead where residential developments of quayside flats are under construction and the £25m Hilton Hotel is nearing completion. Penrice says there is even talk of a redevelopment of Gateshead city centre on the back of all this development. Outside of Newcastle, it is government money creating construction opportunities. “From Teesside up to Newcastle, regeneration is being pump-primed by two agencies: Teesside Urban Regeneration Company and Sunderland Urban Regeneration Company,” explains Turner & Townend’s Armitt. Andy Pearson

  • Ian Robinson Sunnyside Cabs, Newcastle
    How busy are you?
    It’s been fairly busy, but not as busy as I’d like it to be. Now the students starting to come back things will pick up again. How’s the area’s economy doing?
    Not bad, but its not great either. There are still a lot of rundown areas but it is better than it was 10 years ago. Is there much construction work going on?
    There are quite a lot of new buildings going up on the quayside, both Newcastle and Gateshead, especially with the region going for City of err … err … Culture. The flats on the quayside are very expensive. Also, there is a lot of building work and offices going up in the town centre as well. Has anything unusual happened in your cab recently?
    No, I know it sounds like I’m avoiding the question, but I don’t think I’ve ever had anything exciting happen in my cab … no I haven’t, the more I think about the more sure I am.
  • Wales

    Wales is the UK’s smallest regional construction market. Last year, turnover in the principality was £1.4bn – less than the value of single projects such as the West Coast Main Line upgrade or Heathrow Terminal 5. Total output in the region has been falling for the past couple of years, thanks to reduced investment in the industrial, infrastructure and public housing sectors. Output is expected to start rising again with increased government spending – particularly on health and education projects – and the booming private housing sector, particularly in the huge South Wales regeneration areas of Cardiff Bay, Barry and Newport. Investment in public projects (excluding housing) is up 79% on last year, according to business consultant Frank Isack. “Investment is rocketing,” he says. In fact, he expects total construction activity in Wales to increase 10% this year. The PFI has not caught on in Wales, largely because schemes are too small to be attractive to big players, although a £55m PFI distributor road at Newport has just been awarded to a consortium that includes Morgan Sindall and Vinci. Other schemes in the pipeline include a £65m terminal at Cardiff International Airport and a rival airport at Newport proposed in the recent aviation white paper. This scheme is some years away but Isack says it could bring total investment of £2bn. Cardiff has been the focus of most construction activity recently, with the £2.4bn regeneration of the former docks continuing apace. The largest project on site is the £105m Wales Millennium Centre, designed by Percy Thomas Partnership and being built by Sir Robert McAlpine. The Welsh assembly project, stalled since the controversial sacking of architect Richard Rogers last year, is in limbo until the assembly appoints a design-and-build team to take the building forward. And much-delayed plans for a £700m International Sports Village on Cardiff Bay are once again being touted, but Isack warns that the project may still be years away. Other population centres in South Wales are now trying to catch up with Cardiff. Newport has announced a Haskoll-designed £100m retail scheme to double the size of the existing Kingsway centre and a £750m mixed-use development is pencilled in for the former Corus plant at Llanwern. Client Oak Asset Securities is planning a £50m holiday and leisure centre at Cymmer near Port Talbot and the Welsh Development Agency is behind the £200m “Port Tawe” programme to regenerate Swansea city centre. One area to watch is the burgeoning wind-farm industry. Government plans to draw 10% of energy needs from renewable sources by the end of the decade have led to £200m-worth of on- and off-shore schemes in windswept Wales. Marcus Fairs

  • Julia Watt, Controller, Capital Cabs, Cardiff
    How busy are you?
    It has been quite busy. I’ve been here 14 years; there was a lull in the early 1990s but it has picked up again now. How’s the area’s economy doing?
    Very lively. People are going out a lot to nightclubs and so on. Is there much construction work going on?
    There’s a lot of new development around the bay area. It’s getting quite busy down there. Have you had any famous customers?
    I wouldn’t be allowed to tell you that. It’s data protected.
  • Yorkshire

    Leeds’ position as the UK’s second largest financial and media centre is fuelling demand for city-centre office space. The Royal Bank of Scotland is looking for 300,000 ft2 of office space in central Leeds and the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister wants 14,000 m2 to house 900 staff. David Cotton, business development manager for HBG Construction’s North-east division, says this kind of demand will fuel more commercial developments. “The whole construction market is buoyant and I can see another surge coming for building office work because Royal Bank of Scotland will have a big effect on demand,” he says. Contractors are bidding for a £10m office development for financial group Clerical Medical and work started in the summer on Berkeley’s £100m Clarence Dock mixed-use scheme. These projects represent just the tip of the iceberg – the Leeds Development Agency estimates that there are large-scale projects totalling more than £3bn either under way or proposed for the city. And in Sheffield, developer Hammerson is working on a £300m retail redevelopment. Outside the two main centres of Leeds and Sheffield, consultants, architects and contractors are reporting a healthy work flow from the retail, education, health and civil engineering sectors. “The whole region is busy, busier than it has been in the past two years, in fact,” says Peter Beard, director at QS the Monaghan Partnership. Projects in the pipeline include aircraft maker Boeing’s plans for a high-tech research and development campus on the site of the old Waverley opencast coalmine between Sheffield and Rotheram. On the public sector front, there are a number of education projects coming through traditional procurement methods, including a £8.5m deal for a new chemistry laboratory for the University of Yorkshire. There are also several large hospital PFI schemes up for grabs, including a £170m contract to build an oncology wing at St James University Hospital and a £30m project to build an oncology and haematology wing for the Hull and East Yorkshire NHS Trust. Despite the generally positive outlook, there is one cloud on the horizon: the region’s largest PFI project, the £500m Leeds Supertram scheme to build a 28 km network around the city has been hit by the defection of two of the four shortlisted teams. A team led by Mowlem pulled out in May and an Amey-led team withdrew in July after a spat over bid costs. Gordon Jon Thompson

  • Josh Flemming Station Cars, Leeds
    How busy are you?
    Not bad at present, but how busy we’ll be in the future will depend on which developments go ahead. If Leeds United build their stadium out of town, fares from the station in the city centre will increase. But if the planned new tram system goes ahead, it would take away a lot of custom. How’s the area’s economy doing?
    It’s still charging ahead. Is there much construction work going on?
    You bet. There’s a lot going on around the station and along the riverfront. The new stadium seems to be on one minute and off the next.
  • Ireland

    The UK isn’t the only country that can’t build a stadium. The controversy over the design, funding and construction of “Bertie’s Bowl” – the Irish national stadium – has brought construction, or the lack of it, to the front pages of Irish newspapers for the past year. Originally, the project was to be funded out of the public purse, but the government is now seeking a private company to pay for it instead. Earmarked for completion by 2004, there is now some fear that it will not be ready for 2008 – the stadium was supposed to be the centrepiece of a bid for that year’s European football championships. The reason is simple: the recession has led to the government running out of money and the public is more concerned that their remaining taxes go into health and education. Recession has hit construction hard. Commercial development is in trouble because few firms are able to afford office space in the speculatively built buildings of the late-1990s boom. Annette Hughes, a construction specialist at Irish economist DKM Economic Consultants, says: “There are high vacancy rates in commercial buildings – in the suburbs this can be above 20%.” Put simply, Ireland does not need any more office space. The housing sector is also starting to feel the pinch. Despite a record 52,600 homes being built last year, the effects of the 2000 Planning and Development Act are starting to kick in. The act demands 20% affordable housing on new developments, enough to deter housebuilders. As a result, Ireland’s Construction Industry Federation predicts the new homes figure will fall by up to 10,000 in 2002. A CIF spokesperson said: “In the eastern region of Ireland alone planning applications are down 50-65%.”

    Despite the problems, Ireland’s capital is becoming conscious of the importance of high-quality design. For example, the Dublin Transportation Office recently appointed DEGW to provide design exemplars for development at rail stations. Michael MacAree, the office’s head of land-use planning, says: “The idea is to challenge the concept of station designs – we have to show that there is more to station development than two platforms.”

    With this success, and with projects such as masterplanning the expansion of the 30,000-person town of Swords, it is unsurprising that DEGW co-founder John Worthington plays down Ireland’s problems: “The worry was that after 11 September there would be a downturn, but that’s not really been the case.”

    It seems unlikely that housebuilders and commercial developers would agree. Mark Leftly

  • Sean O’Shaughnessy, Owner, Taxi Ennis, County Clare
    How busy are you?
    We’re not picking up as many customers on weekdays as we were – probably to do with the government’s deregulation of our industry last year. How’s the area’s economy doing?
    Is is showing clear signs of slowing down. Is there much construction work going on?
    There is major work going on in Ennis with the laying of a gas pipeline. Has anything unusual happened in your cab recently?
    Well, recently I sent down this beautiful Mercedes to pick up a prominent archaeologist from a construction site. It was hilarious really. He gets into the car completely covered in muck and in workers’ clothes – the construction worker who was with him was fairly tidy! It took us months to clean the car up properly.
  • East Midlands

    Construction in the East Midlands is about to benefit from the massive investment by the government in transport infrastructure – for example, improvements to the East Coast Main Line will result in an investment of £400m in the East Midlands alone. Alan Baker, managing partner at QS Gleeds predicts that improvements to the area’s roads, rail and East Midlands airport will boost the industrial sector, which is dominated by distribution warehouses clustered around the railways and the M1. “The rail sector is expanding and new companies are piggybacking on that,” he says. This is particularly important as recent industrial developments have been thin on the ground. The increase in public spending on health and education is also providing economic stimulus to the region. Among numerous projects in the region, Leicester College is revamping buildings at a cost of £40m and University Hospitals of Leicestershire NHS Trust is reconfiguring three hospitals at a cost of £363m. And the news is good in the retail, leisure and commercial sectors as well. New shopping centres include the £400m redevelopment of Broadmarsh by Westfield in Nottingham and the £200m revamp around the Eagle Centre in Derby. And Northampton is planning to spend £25m on a new leisure centre. As for the office market, this is relatively steady, as according to Baker, the area suffers from a shortage of good business parks. Among the planned commercial projects is a £50m PFI warehousing and office scheme at Markham Colliery in Derbyshire. In the past few years, the East Midlands has enjoyed a private housing boom. “We keep thinking the market will slow down but it isn’t,” says Lesley Wilmott, partner at B&R Partnership. Willmott says her practice is being kept busy with large private houses and extensions to private schools. This is a sign of the growing number of commuters attracted to the area by low house prices and good transport links to London, Leeds and the West Midlands. However, Baker believes that housing market is starting to get quieter, particularly the market for city centre apartments. Business consultant Frank Issac puts this down to the fact that housebuilders are building more homes than laid out in the government’s regional planning guidance. “There could be a slowdown here because of oversupply. There is a need to build more affordable homes, though,” he says. Alex Smith

  • Amjid Javaid, DG Cars, Nottingham
    How busy are you?
    We’re moving around lost of business people – more than last year. How is the area’s economy doing?
    People seem to have money. They’re spending it in restaurants and shopping centres and we’re getting them there. Is there much construction work going on?
    There seem to be a lot of lofts being converted. Four of five years ago this would have been unheard of. People must have good jobs to pay for them. Where are the development hotspots?
    There are lots of residential conversions going on in central areas such as the Lace Market and Castle Boulevard. Has anything unusual happened in your cab recently?
    We’ve been taking a lot of pigs’ eyes to the hospital. I don’t why.
  • West Midlands

    There are some signs that the London downturn has headed north up the M40 to the West Midlands, which has been experiencing a construction boom over the past few years. Despite healthy predicted output for the sector, some firms are experiencing something of a slowdown. “It’s quiet at the moment,” reckons Gardiner & Theobald partner Tony Milner. “I wouldn’t say it was a downturn but I would say it has flattened out.” It seems the area may just be experiencing something of a lull before a glut of major projects gets under way – such as the new Birmingham library and hospital. The West Midlands was also hit by the vote against the £1.2bn Birmingham housing stock transfer earlier this year, which delayed a lot of maintenance work. “It still feels fairly buoyant,” says Aedas TCN director Peter Chappell. “There has been a slight levelling off but in six months you will see more projects come through.” And some are not feeling a drop at all. “For us it’s still going incredibly well, especially in big retail schemes and the PFI markets,” says Cyril Sweett director Ian Pocock. The major focus in Birmingham remains the east side of the city centre, a development expected to be worth £800m. This will include the new library as well as housing developments such as Typhoo Wharf and further retail and office schemes. The most controversial project is a £6.5bn airport being considered between Coventry and Rugby. It has already attracted intense local criticism and locals claim an extended Birmingham airport is more likely. Phil Clark

  • Bob Ellis, Owner of Cabtours
    How busy are you?
    It’s getting busier but it’s been a quiet summer. How is the area’s economy doing?
    It’s a bit of a mixed bag – some firms are expanding, others, such as Jaguar and Marconi, are cutting back. How much construction work is going on?
    There’s obviously the Bull Ring, and there’s also a lot of quality housing going up. I think Birmingham will be an extremely vibrant city in the future. Has anything unusual happened in your cab recently?
    I got a bit of the red carpet used when the Queen opened the Birmingham hospital extension. Recently, I took a customer to Stonehenge and when she went off to the toilet, I put the carpet down. A crowd gathered round when she came out and people were trying to take photos of her!