Experts discuss how to attract even more investment into north Derbyshire

While the COVID-19 pandemic crippled a number of industries, construction has been one of the few industries that has been maintained despite facing the challenges of supply chain issues, delays on planning and inspection timetables, and the introduction of new workforce health and safety measures.

Wednesday, 6th October 2021, 11:55 am
Experts held a lively debate using video conferencing

In the midst of lockdown, three major construction projects got underway in Chesterfield alone, the office building at Chesterfield Waterside, the Enterprise Centre at Northern Gateway and the Glass Yard on Whittington Moor.

With £1 billion of investment in Chesterfield taking place right now and more projects on the horizon, the demand for skilled workers is increasing significantly.

The skills agenda is one of four key themes identified as a priority by the new Chesterfield Property and Construction Forum which was launched earlier this year.

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The new forum brings together leaders from the area’s property and construction sectors to shape and drive forward collaboration, investment, sustainability and skills within Chesterfield – all topics discussed at the latest round table debate.

Held remotely using video conferencing technology and organised by Destination Chesterfield in conjunction with the Derbyshire Times, the round table brought together key figures from the property and construction sector to discuss how Chesterfield can attract further investment, address the skills shortage and lead the way in sustainability.

Taking part were:

DS – Dom Stevens - Destination Chesterfield Coordinator (Chair)

JW – Jamie Wajs – Director and Valuer, Lime Living Estate Agents

AF – Andrew Fielder – Director, Banner Jones Solicitors

IB – Ian Bates – Policy and Representation Manager, East Midlands Chamber (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire)

SB – Sanjeev Batra – Director, BRM Solicitors

TS – Tom Swallow – Development Manager, Bolsterstone Group Plc

AB – Andrew Byrne – Property Development Director, Devonshire Group

How should we promote the town in order to attract further investment?

TS – It’s really great that Chesterfield Borough Council’s inclusion of local labour clauses in contracts promotes using local labour in the town.

IB – One of the main issues for inward investors however is access to skilled employees, so it is important that there are good links with colleges to support inward investors and help them get the staff they need. We need to promote this.

TS – It’s important to offer investors something different. We have a lot of intelligent architectural design that is helping us standout, The Glass Yard and the Avant Homes’ properties being built at Chesterfield Waterside. The housing in particular is generating

a lot of interest from people outside Chesterfield because it’s a different offer to what’s already here. That’s how you start to pull people in from external areas and drive inward investment in the town.

JW – The housing market here is still looking really healthy. We’ve had a lot of people already living here moving to another house but have also seen people moving into the town too. Over the last 18 months as the hybrid home/office working model has developed, people have had a real interest in Chesterfield due to its central location and easy access to major cities.

AF – The residential sector is still buoyant, and we’ve got a lot of active local developers and some bigger regional developers that are quite aggressively building in and around Chesterfield.

IB - The way we work has changed significantly over the last 18 months. We’ve got a lot to offer in and around Chesterfield that will attract talent. Having a mainline train station and being close to the M1 means a commute isn’t necessarily an issue for people living in Chesterfield.

JW – We let the apartments at Moss Court on Saltergate and the majority of tenants are not car users.

AF - The challenge Chesterfield has is getting the developments in the town centre occupied. Attracting anchor tenants into Elder Way for instance would get that moving.

DS – Occupancy in the town centre has held itself pretty well compared to the national average and we are seeing some new places coming forward too. With the Enterprise Centre opening in the Autumn and the public realm works now complete, hopefully we will see more interest in the Elder Way site.

AB – I think it’s important to shout about the things that we are doing in a positive way. There’s an awful lot of good stuff going on in and around Chesterfield, but do we shout about it enough? You’ve got generate that overall positive feel about a place and that helps to attract other investment.

SB – We’re still seeing a demand for industrial warehouse premises. Demand is as high as ever at Sheepbridge. People are investing there from outside Chesterfield. Our industrial offering as a town is good.

How can Chesterfield’s businesses, organisations and public sector work in partnership to ensure the workforce has the right skills for the property and construction sector going forward?

AB – The skills agenda has been identified as a priority by the new Chesterfield Property and Construction Forum which was launched earlier this year. I joined it when it launched and have found it’s a great way to make new contacts, across the sector. One of those contacts is Emily Williams over at Chesterfield Borough Council, who leads on training and skills. We’re working on two initiatives focused on skills – a women in construction mentoring scheme and the creation of a construction skills hub on one of our development sites.

IB –The starting point is definitely engagement with the education sector. There are a lot of changes and new technologies in the construction sector and it’s about bringing through the right people to deliver on that going forward.

AB - It’s important the construction sector communicates to the education sector what we need from the next generation of property and construction workers.

JW – A lot of skills are transferrable and there are a lot of exciting jobs in the industry. I think a lot of people train for one particular role and often don’t have a secondary or third in mind, but it’s about making those people aware of what’s out there.

IB - One of the universities realised they had lots of gaming students who couldn’t find a job, but there was a shortage of people with building information modelling skills. With some simple bridging training there were lots of people suitable for the role. Discussions with people should start with where the best chance of getting a job lies and the skills that are required to do that job.

With the focus on sustainable development becoming more of a priority, how can Chesterfield’s property and construction sector lead the way in helping the town’s drive towards net-zero carbon emissions?

TS –Sustainability has become more important on both residential and commercial developments. Buyers see it as added value.

JW – People are considering sustainable measures but it’s still on a small scale. A lot of the time, it still comes down to price and location. A lot of it comes down to the information that’s out there to make consumers more aware of the benefits of these features.

AB – We’re a good way off being net-zero and the cost of doing this is quite prohibitive to making that happen. However, the cost of sustainable development has reduced significantly over the last three-five years. I think that’s down to regulation and the fact that occupiers and investors are now looking for this.

TS – Sustainable development has to be led by the public sector through legislation, government guidance and tax incentives. The increase in electric vehicles is a good example of this.

IB – I think we will see a lot more regulation coming on board because the carbon reduction targets are so high.

AF – Incentives are key to driving sustainability. Recently a client was able to get a better interest rate on their mortgage depending on the energy efficiency of the property they were buying.

SB – I think sustainability needs to be pushed up the priority list. Maybe the government could offer incentives with things like stamp duty – the more efficient the property is, the less stamp duty you pay.

TS - We’re doing a big scheme in Sheffield and Legal & General are investing £150m into the city and all their schemes have to be net-zero carbon. Because of the scale of regeneration they do, it’ll almost become the standard within the cities they invest in.

AB - I think it’s important for the local construction sector to recognise opportunities and take advantage of the sustainability and push boundaries.

How important is it for our local property and construction businesses to work collaboratively and share best practice, in order to ensure Chesterfield is a great place to live, invest, work and visit?

IB – There are so many people doing their own things. However great things can happen when people work together towards the same end goals.

TS – The Chesterfield Property and Construction Forum is a great vehicle to pull the sector and give it a collective voice as well as share information.

DS – Chesterfield Borough Council spoke about their new procurement systems at the forum and that was really useful to help people understand how they can register and bid for opportunities.

AB – The forum is identifying problems in the sector and trying to solve them. There are so many shared issues across the sector and if we don’t put our heads together to try and solve them, then it’s not going to get sorted. Collaboration is vitally important.

TS – In terms of placemaking, creating a place where people want to live and work and keeping it all local on your doorstep. Chesterfield has it all. We have a great proposition for invetsors.