Francesco Veenstra Mecanoo

NW 2015: Adapt and collaborate

With the benefit of working internationally, the North West has become a second home to us whilst mainland Europe continues to stagnate, writes Francesco Veenstra, partner at Mecanoo Architects.

Things are looking up

Westminster is heeding the North West region's ambitions for growth and investment via HS2/3, Airport City, SuperPort and many other long-term initiatives. Devolution is an exciting prospect, with Greater Manchester an important piece at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse concept.

In this context, we are finding the region an increasingly prosperous one, in which businesses can grow and thrive with long-term outlooks. In some cases, workloads are increasing at such a rapid rate that some within the industry are having to contemplate turning work down in order to maintain quality. Growing organically is key; ensuring the DNA of your business remains and grows rather than erodes and weakens.

Long live the private sector

In the last year we have seen a shift in development noticeably away from the public sector in the North West. We have not seen the latter yet in any meaningful way in the Netherlands or elsewhere in Europe, and we expect to see the shift continuing in the medium term.

In what, on the surface, has appeared to be steady GDP growth in recent years, under the surface, the nature of construction has turned on its head in a remarkably short period to reliance on the private sector. 2015 might well be a peak in private sector-led work in which we all continue to adapt.

Caution

Westminster has again announced to cuts council budgets this week, a stark reminder we are not over the hill yet. 2015 marks the end of a political cycle where forecasters such as Institute for Fiscal Studies are predicting that, after the usual giveaways before the election, tax levels will need to significantly increase whilst public sector cuts will need to be even deeper. Perhaps this will encourage a climate of steady, sustainable growth led by the private sector.

Increasing competition

We feel this growing private-sector market is also increasingly competitive. The established and hardened businesses who survived the downturn, now find themselves competing alongside new, enthusiastic start-up businesses with low overheads. We are also finding international competitors are gearing up to working in the UK and the North West while their home markets remain challenging, and the English language is the international norm.

Collaborative approach

In the context of increasing competition and squeezed public sector finance, collaboration can be key. How do you do this effectively? We have found being based locally is essential. It allows for a strong client engagement whilst strong connections in the industry can grow and strengthen. We applaud Manchester's approach to events such as MIPIM which enable networks to flourish and projects to happen.

Think national/international?

International experience and local presence, fresh thinking and new ideas are embraced here in Manchester and the North West. With changing market conditions locally, a broad portfolio of work in different markets can be a recipe to a balanced business model. We think UK businesses should not be afraid of making this step too in the opposite direction towards Europe. Watch this space.

Francesco Veenstra is a partner at Netherlands-based practice Mecanoo Architects and leads projects in the North West from the Manchester office.

Your Comments

Wise words and delighted to see that you are enjoying working in the UK. Manchester appears to be one of the main cities outside of London which is attracting inward investment from both national government and international donors – e.g. from China and the Middle East. Manchester’s lower business costs and relatively higher standard of living than the capital will continue to act as an engine for growth over the coming years. Your comments on collaboration are so true. Often working together with mutually compatible companies can be stronger than the individual entities and Manchester is well placed for this way of working as a creative hub of the north.

By Marcel Ridyard

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