Business Round Table - Chesterfield property and construction leaders discuss town's regeneration
and live on Freeview channel 276
Chesterfield’s regeneration is continuing at pace, with almost 300,000 square feet of modern office, industrial, manufacturing and logistics space being brought to market since the start of 2022.
The town’s continued growth is being made possible thanks to a range of collaborative projects between the public and private sectors.
But how can the town continue its impressive growth in the face of a challenging economic landscape?
This month’s Chesterfield Champions Round Table, held in partnership with the Derbyshire Times, brought together leaders from the town’s Property and construction Sector, to discuss how firms are continuing to deliver on growing the town’s investment, quality, and sustainability goals.
JM - Jillian Mitchell – Lomas & Mitchell Architects
PH - Paul Holden - Peak Architects
ES - Emily Smith – Holywell Hotel by Voeberg
CH - Chris Hobson – East Midlands Chamber
SW - Stephen Wenlock – Chesterfield Borough Council
AD - Andy Dabbs - Whittam Cox Architects
PD - Phillip Dalton – Dalton Roofing
JL - Jim Lomas - DLP Planning
MJ - Mike Jones – Windowcharm Curtains and Blinds
What are the most significant challenges the Property and Construction sectors in our region are facing in 2023?
AD - There are obviously lots of positive things happening in and around us and a lot of success, particularly in Chesterfield during a very volatile period. We've seen some significant office space being put in place and some great funding being acquired to support the High Street and the public realm infrastructure within the town.
PH - I think we need to look at the positives. As an industry, I think we collaborate extremely well across the region, and we all have a place. We understand that, and we don't compete against each other. A major challenge in my opinion is around creating blended communities. When you look at communities, they are sustainable where people stay and live and work. I would say it has got to be led by the government because it won't happen if it's driven by the private sector… there's no commercial return.
CH – The Chamber has 400 members working in construction across the region, and their biggest frustration at the moment is planning, and the time it is taking to get things to move through.
JL – As a country, we're not delivering enough affordable housing. Viability is certainly having knock-on effects in terms of the ability to deliver social housing which meets people's needs. However, Chesterfield as a community and a local authority is trying to do its level best to deliver housing, and we've seen some very good schemes, such as the project at Mastin Moor.
AD - I think it's an ever-increasing challenge in terms of viability and funding available to get schemes off the ground. It increasingly relies on schemes being underpinned by public funding. That's not new, but with a gap of money in local authorities, that is only going to become compounded as an issue.
ES - I am fairly new to the area, but we have recently gone through the planning process and the engagement we got with the Council was pretty amazing, to be honest. For a smaller development, our experience was extremely positive.
PD - We're an expanding business and we find it difficult to get apprentices in the local area. There's plenty of work out there, but there is a massive skills shortage currently.
MJ - We manufacture most of our products. So, we're noticing the rising costs, such as staffing and utility bills. Our margins are being squeezed, but we're trying to offer a competitive service to local businesses and organisations. Most people want the best possible price and it's about finding a happy medium.
Chesterfield Borough Council has set a target of becoming a net-zero borough by 2050. How can the property and construction sector engage with local authorities to support this?
SW - I think the challenge of getting to net zero by 2050 doesn't happen in 2049. It is a ‘today’ challenge. There's no silver bullet, but we are going to have to work together to embrace the kind of changes that are necessary. I think we need to look at how we come together as a community to address the challenges ahead.
AD - I think the common thread in all the discussions I have is that it largely sits around education. I think we must be far more open and educate people better in terms of what impact they can have. And it is the cumulative small things that are just as important as the big ones.
CH - There is probably still a low understanding across the business population in terms of exactly what we are talking about. It's not helped by the fact that government policy and messaging has been really wishy-washy. I think it's made to feel a bit more complex than it needs to be and so I think there needs to be an education piece for businesses on some simple things that they can do to start their journey.
PH – I wonder whether we go for some kind of system of scoring where we can do the simple steps, looking at a systemised approach. I also think we should use that kind of tooling to look not only at our existing buildings but where there are viability gaps in new builds. Can we facilitate future enhancements by being clever with the design so that we future-proof buildings?
JM - I think there are so many differing messages, which are all probably trying to achieve the same objectives from authorities across the country. I'm working in places where some authorities have announced themselves as a ‘climate emergency’ authority or someone saying ‘We're going to be net carbon by 2050.’ I think we need legislative introductions, which therefore create a level playing field for everybody to work to the same rules.
JL - The next generations of young planners, engineers, architects, and builders are all going to be far more alert to these things. And I also think the next generation of people who are in the industry and who want to purchase are going to be far more eco-savvy. The next generation will have experienced greater issues and impacts of climate change.
ES - I see it as a very tricky issue. Looking at our project, which is a listed building, how can you make that viable if you had to adhere to additional stipulations? How do we support the development of existing housing stock without wastage, demolishing and rebuilding? That's something that I feel is very close to our hearts.
SW - I think that the UK needs to work out how to contend with its existing building and housing stock, and how that can be retrofitted and improved to help meet these targets. I also believe that as a country, we need a universal understanding and guidance for individuals and smaller organisations to rally around. The Council now has a climate change officer and a team looking at how the borough works on this.
JL – Whilst we are talking about climate change, we've also got to look at things in the room that we've got to keep, such as jobs. We've got to keep people earning and make sure the economy is ticking over.
MJ - As a supplier, we are also looking to innovate. When we work on a project, we are also looking at the sustainability factor. If we can repair something, we will. One thing we do more often is a process called furniture wrapping. So instead of disposing of old furniture, we're making it sustainable again by saving landfill and wrapping it with vinyl film to make it more aesthetically pleasing.
SW – As a council, we have a climate change impact assessment tool. Primarily, this makes sure that as we consider what decisions we're making, we're considering them in the light of their impact on climate change.
CH – For some businesses, there is also a very big commercial opportunity, in terms of being able to develop sustainable products and processes that we can sell around the world.
JL- Introducing quality is key to sustainability, but I also think that gives confidence to an area. It has a knock-on effect, and it starts to generate its own momentum to attract the sort of things that we are all looking to achieve for Chesterfield.
PH - I think one thing that would be very useful is to just have consistency. Even creating a guide which proposes a consistent approach to how we deal with sustainability, and how we deal with different aspects as an industry to support Chesterfield.
How can the sector contribute towards inward investment, growth, and skills in Chesterfield?
AD - I think Chesterfield needs to keep developing a vision to attract the attention of wider investment, nationally and internationally. As a property group, and as Chesterfield champions, I think we could all play our part in supporting that with our diverse and unique skill sets.
SW – The Council is aspirational for the growth and development of the town and the opportunities that we can give to people who work, live, and visit here. We've received an immense amount of expertise and support from the property and construction sector to date, and it's important that we can continue working together to help us achieve those aspirations.
JM – Whenever there's a celebration of a development, very rarely does the architect's name get mentioned. I think our industry should be better at valuing what we do, who we are, and how we do it. We spend a lot of time talking about new housing, and there are an awful lot of architects involved in the delivery of it.
AD - I think the plans for a combined East Midlands authority will start to open greater doors for Chesterfield, and further the conversation that's already underway in terms of exploring how we better connect our region. We've already demonstrated how creating the platform as a Property and Construction Group has led to some real success in the skills conversation.
PH - As a profession, we're pushing more towards apprenticeship schemes, and I generally believe that's the right approach. But there is an opportunity here as education becomes more embedded into the profession, to upskill ourselves with regards to best practice.
AD – It’s clear that education institutions are now pushing work experience more as a primary course syllabus. We've had 24 students this year and there's a lot of value in it. We are struggling with bringing in senior people because so many people left the industry during the COVID period, which was earlier than we would have normally anticipated. As a sector, we've got to support more on-the-job training.
JL - We take on students from all walks of life, and they are quite resource hungry. But as practitioners, we feel it's a worthwhile course of action to undertake. We feel it is part of our professional obligation to help bring on young planners. I think that Chesterfield College is also gaining significant ground, and is a very attractive element for Chesterfield to encourage people to live and work in the area.
Destination Chesterfield is part funded by contributions from local businesses, Chesterfield Borough Council and the UK Shared Prosperity Fund.
The project is helping to improve the economic prosperity of the town through a campaign to promote Chesterfield.
The local business community plays a central role in its success by both leading an independent board of Directors for Destination Chesterfield, as well as businesses pledging their support to become Chesterfield Champions.
The Destination Chesterfield Partnership has received £180,000 from the UK Government through the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. It follows a successful funding bid by Chesterfield Borough Council, to secure £2.69 million worth of funding for local projects.
For more information about becoming a Chesterfield Champion, visit: http://www.chesterfield.co.uk/destination-chesterfield/champions/sign-up/.