Stephen Collins
Stephen Collins
Arcadis Sector Leader for Sports, Leisure and Hospitality

As the country strives to implement a pandemic recovery plan, an unprecedented £3bn worth of investment is being poured into the leisure sector, which is further driving the levelling-up agenda.

The range and scale of the leisure projects underway across the country is remarkable and is something I have never-before-seen in my 30-career.

In Stratford, the £1bn East Bank Education & Cultural District covering 4.25-hectares will be home to major new buildings for the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Sadler’s Wells dance theatre, the UCL, the BBC, and a new campus for the University of London’s College of Fashion.

As host to the 2022 Commonwealth Games, Birmingham is investing heavily in sports facilities including the £520m Athletes Village on the site of the former Birmingham City University campus.

In the North West, a further range of projects will transform the area. Everton FC’s new £500m, 53,000-seater stadium at Bramley Moore Dock, for example, will begin construction this summer with contractor Laing O’Rourke.

Currently under construction, Manchester’s new £350m Co-op Live Arena has the intent to rival the O2 in terms of scale and will be ready to host events in 2023, while next to the Trafford Centre the £60m Modern Surf outdoor surf park has just been grated planning permission to sit alongside the £250m landmark water-based wellbeing resort, Therme Manchester, which is scheduled to open in 2023.

A UK-first, Therme Manchester will include tropical spas, swimming pools, a bio-diverse garden and relaxation areas over a huge 28-acre site.

Alongside these, there is the 15,000-seater, £150m Cardiff arena, new arenas in Bristol and Harrogate, the £36.2m Hull Venue which will be a state-of-the-art music, events and conference centre for the North East, the £200m Great Wolf Lodge water park near Bicester, and the huge 465-hectare London Resort Development on the Thames in North Kent, which will create world-leading theme park.

The geographical spread of these projects means investment, jobs, and facilities for regional economies at a time when they are most needed. And with a lot of the big developers focussing on opportunities outside London, it will significantly contribute to wider regeneration of regional cities.

With Rishi Sunak’s budget announcement of plans to move hundreds of Treasury officials to Darlington and Teeside, alongside other plans to potentially move thousands of Whitehall jobs to locations across the North, there is increasing evidence that the levelling up agenda is in full force.

This supports a trend seen in Arcadis’ newly released Property Client Engagement survey, which looks at the future of UK investment and regeneration in the context of Brexit, the global pandemic, regulatory change and the increasing focus on sustainability.

Participants from 75 of the leading and cross-regional property investment and development organisations frequently cited the levelling up agenda as a key focus point when it came to investment and the opportunities in the current climate for town centre regeneration.

Seventy per cent of those who took part saw the benefits of town centre regeneration and are pursuing opportunities related to it. Investment in infrastructure and changes to live, work and play patterns, as a result of the pandemic, were also seen to be positive catalysts for town centre regeneration.

The likelihood is that as things start to open back up, the demand for leisure facilities will increase, with many (myself included) valuing their leisure time a lot more after months of lockdowns and isolation. And, with many people continuing to work from home, people will potentially have more opportunities to enjoy leisure activities throughout the day.

There are, of course, challenges to overcome for the leisure sector, with the primary one being to restore consumer confidence in light of Covid-19. Businesses are going to have to get their messaging right, as well as ensuring safeguards remain in place for those that feel unsafe in public places.

The government’s advice now restrictions are lifted also needs to be communicated clearly but, ultimately, it will come down to the numbers and the perception of those numbers. What are the infection rates, what are the chances of me personally getting infected and what is the chance it could be a serious infection?

Supply chain capacity, in particular the shortage of materials, will also come into play when it comes to the speed and cost of development and regeneration, particularly around projects with tight timeframes.

Our June update on construction materials, pricing and shortages showed that with steel and timber in short supply, and the potential of problems with certain electrical goods such as switchgear and cable terminations, businesses will have to manage their risk exposure carefully.

Despite some evidence of competitive bidding and price inflation, particularly in metal products like rebar, major contractors are expected to be able to maintain supply for the most part with smaller projects more likely to be affected.

All these developments have their challenges to overcome where commercial certainty, delivery execution strategy and fundability are key focus areas for developers. Arcadis broad and detailed knowledge of contract and commercial structures combined with multiple service capability across of the development cycle and its relationships with financial institutions plays a key role in launching these iconic and industry leading projects in the market. The continuous drive to act with sustainability as a central focus while innovating delivery practices through the application digital technology is changing the approach to the delivery of these projects. The deployment of off-site manufacturing for construction projects is seen as a more effective way of delivering assurance to developers, investors and wider stakeholders associated with these projects.

The leisure sector, despite the challenges it faces, is thriving across the UK and it has all the ingredients to drive placemaking in our towns and cities. The amount of investment in residential over the last few years requires leisure facilities to breathe life into areas that could otherwise be sterile.

The £1bn East Bank Education & Cultural District in Stratford is the perfect example of this. The exciting new facilities that are being constructed there will bring culture, opportunity and leisure facilities into the area to match the impressive levels of housing created since the 2012 Olympics.

Like other schemes across the Midlands and North, this will lead the charge to regenerate, renew and refresh parts of the country and will ultimately improve health, happiness and wellbeing.


Stephen Collins
Stephen Collins
Arcadis Sector Leader for Sports, Leisure and Hospitality

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