Amid renewed speculation that the NEC may be up for sale, Simon Clayton, Director, RefTech, shares a view:
the NEC group were ever to be put up for sale, the effects would,
obviously, depend on who bought it. We only have to look at what is
happening at Earls Court to see that property developers are more
interested in the development potential of the land than in the economic
benefit of a venue to an area.
On the other hand, ADNEC appears
to be doing a great job at Excel so they are proving that some buyers
can take a venue and invest in it to make it more successful.
we look at the ICC/Symphony Hall complex and the NIA, these buildings
stand on prime city-centre land. A potential buyer looking at the
financial performance of these buildings might decide that they can get a
better short-term return by flattening them and building offices and
apartments. The loss of Symphony Hall, which is home to the CBSO (City
of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra), would be a particularly emotive move
in the region so it could be that any purchaser would hold the City
Council to ransom, offering to keep the building if the Council pays an
My fellow director Ken Clayton was involved in
the very early planning stages of ICC Birmingham and having worked there
on many occasions, he knows how much effort went into making this one
of the best convention centres in Europe.
It’s worth bearing in
mind where it came from: Birmingham’s prosperity stemmed from its role
as a manufacturing centre. By the seventies, the manufacturing sector
was in decline and one of the ways in which Birmingham re-invented
itself was by opening the NEC in 1976 and the ICC around 14 years later.
So both buildings were created in order to regenerate the economy of
Now that the city is in deep financial difficulties, the
councillors may see the sale of the building as inevitable. However,
they need to think back to the original objective and realise that, if
ICC closes (and the NEC itself come to that), there is a serious risk
that the economy of the West Midlands could be set back 30 years. Maybe
an economist could produce a forecast showing how many businesses would
be likely to close and therefore how much revenue the city would lose as
It would be good to think that they would see it like
that but, as the saying goes, ‘when you’re up to your backside in
alligators, it’s difficult to remember that the original objective was
to drain the swamp’.
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