Birmingham City Council is in danger of destroying its historic Jewellery Quarter (JQ) by focusing on new residential space, and ignoring the small manufacturers which gave the area its name, says Lib Dem Mayoral candidate, Beverley Nielsen.
She fears a combination of fast-rising property prices and business rates, coupled with short-term local authority leases which don't provide the certainty required for investment, is 'hollowing out' the area.
“The city council owns large tracts of land here, and is landlord to something like 40% of the businesses in the JQ development trust area, but the people I met all complained about its lack of foresight, and its inability to deliver a strategic vision for the area.
“Rising rents are the biggest single challenge. As jewellery businesses either close down, or relocate to areas with lower rents, the space they leave is being altered for alternative uses; typically residential, restaurants, bars or coffee shops.
“In the same way that Covent Garden’s origins as a fruit and vegetable market are a distant memory, we're seeing this area being transformed into an urban village, drawing on the name of the Jewellery Quarter, but instead becoming a hub for creative businesses, residential and tourism.”
Greg Fattorini is the sixth generation of his family to run the JQ-based Thomas Fattorini business, specialising in bespoke hand-crafted items, but he too is pessimistic about the future.
“Large parts of Birmingham remain derelict, yet property prices in the JQ have risen relentlessly over the past five years,” he says.
“As a manufacturing company, in the designated industrial core, we find that the council recently approved a 35-flat scheme adjacent to our factory, but we weren't even consulted by the developers on environmental matters.
“If nothing is done to manage what’s happening, I’m concerned that we will simply see a continual decline of the Jewellery Quarter as the pre-eminent centre for jewellery and related creative industries in the UK”.
Nielsen's solution envisages the council setting up a specialist JQ Hub offering start-up business space, access to skills training, networking sessions for recent graduates and retail space, to become a new and dynamic focal point for jewellery manufacturers and allied trades.
"The council needs to act boldly here. It should create a new social enterprise, allowing it to operate as a benevolent landlord and developer for this area, and it has to start providing long-term stable leases,” she says.
“It must also put significant resources into promoting and marketing the JQ as a serious retail destination. The Jewellery Quarter has the potential to become an attraction that’s on the 'must see' list for visitors from overseas and elsewhere in the UK, but it won't do so via the council's current laissez-faire approach.”