Cranes on the horizon show city economy remains solid and attractive
SEEING cranes on the skyline might be a crude indicator of a city's economic progress but it is both a tangible and powerful one.
This year, they have sprung up in Corporation Street, Brook Street, Agard Street and, before long, will be seen on Pride Park and the giant Castleward scheme.
After years of planning, tendering and compulsory purchase orders, the £100 million Castleward scheme finally got under way last week. It is the biggest single project to begin in the city centre since 2005 when Westfield started building its £340 million shopping centre.
Elsewhere, the £34 million renovation of the Council House should be completed in time for Christmas.
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Friar Gate Square, the first new-build office development in the city centre for two decades, is on course to be completed by March.
The first phase of this £20 million project is being built speculatively, such is the confidence of developer Lowbridge that occupiers can be found before the building attracts an empty rate liability.
Speaking to the Derby Telegraph at the recent East Midlands Property Show, David Knifton, business development manager at main contractor Clegg Construction, was even cautiously optimistic that construction of the second phase would begin next year.
In Brook Street, Welsh developer Watkin Jones is building accommodation that will house hundreds of students.
The £12 million building is taking shape, revised planning permission has been obtained to increase the number of rooms from 396 to 405 and the company is hoping to complete work by August next year, in time to welcome students for the start of the academic year.
Across the city on Pride Park, Bowmer and Kirkland has got spades in the ground at Derby's new £27.5 million multi-sports arena, which will incorporate a velodrome and is expected to attract large numbers of cycling enthusiasts from across the Midlands.
This project, with its promise of heightened footfall, has also made the Pride Park Plaza scheme a more attractive proposition for leisure operators.
By value, duration and scale, the largest of these schemes is the Castleward project.
An archaeological survey is under way and demolition work is starting in Traffic Street.
Though major work is not due to start until January, the initial works are an important sign that large-scale investment is coming to a neglected area of the city.
The 30-acre site between Derby Midland Station and Westfield shopping centre is to be redeveloped into homes and businesses.
Neil Walker, of Compendium Living, said: "This is a big moment for Derby. The Castleward regeneration scheme is set to revitalise this underused area of the city."
The first stage involves the creation of 163 homes, 16,500sq ft of commercial space, a boulevard and green space.
The first buildings to be completed will be 12 commercial units, ranging in size from 400sq ft to 4,000sq ft, which are expected to be available from next summer.
Matthew Barnsdale, of Lambert Smith and Hampton, the agent responsible for marketing the commercial units, said: "The focus is on creating a new neighbourhood centre, so types of businesses suited to the first available units will be those normally associated with a neighbourhood parade, such as convenience stores, café operators, eateries and other local amenities."
Work on transforming the whole Castleward site is expected to take more than a decade to complete and will feature 800 new homes and 34,500sq ft of commercial space, as well as providing an attractive link between the railway station and the city centre.
As well as reshaping the city, the project will provide employment for hundreds of local construction workers and those sub-contractors brought in from outside the area will use the city's hotels, cafés, restaurants and shops.
It comes at a time when the Council House renovation scheme, on which 350 people have been working, is being finished.
Over the past two years, council staff have been moved out to other offices around the city while the iconic Corporation Street building has undergone removals, partial demolition, reconstruction and wholesale refurbishment.
From next month, 1,900 council employees will start to move back into the building described by Derby City Council chief executive Adam Wilkinson as being like "the Tardis".
Presumably this is an indication of an innovative use of space rather than a capacity to travel through space and time.
Mr Wilkinson believes that the project will pick up awards for its sustainable architecture.
Another project that is bringing large numbers of local workers into the city is Watkin Jones's student accommodation project in Brook Street.
On the site of a former builders' merchant, it represents a significant investment for the developer with a build value of about £12 million.
Development director Ged King said: "There is quite a demand for student accommodation in Derby and we are keen to look at other sites in the city. It is encouraging that there is a lot of development work going on in Derby at the moment."
With the exception of London, there can be few, if any, cities in the UK that have as much construction work going on per head of population.
During the recession, when private sector investment has been harder to come by, the public sector has stepped up to the plate with the refurbishment of the Council House and the velodrome project.
John Forkin, the director of Marketing Derby, said: "Derby is one of the premier cities in the country for the amount of development under way and I think the reasons for that are twofold.
"Firstly, the essentials of Derby's economy are very solid, with export-led hi-tech advanced engineering firms very strong.
"Investors like to follow each other and, the more that is going on, the more confidence they have to invest in the city of Derby, and there is a good balance between public and private sector investment."