Seeing the potential in our canal

Written by: Alexis Krachai

We all have one or two places in or around Sheffield that we will head to for a walk or take visiting family and friends to. The Peace Gardens, Ecclesall Road, Rother Valley, even Meadowhall. Our city has its ‘hotspots’. How many of us head down to Sheffield Tinsley Canal at the weekend?

Having lived in Sheffield for most of my life, I have never walked the length of the canal, had a bite to eat at The Quays restaurant or even stepped on board a passenger boat. I have nothing against the canal, I just don’t know much about it.

The thing is, something is happening down at Victoria Quays.

You might have noticed. The old Grain Warehouse, sitting proudly over the canal now homes modern offices and luxury apartments. The Hilton opens its doors on to the waterfront and a handful of bars and restaurants are popping up along the water’s edge.

There is also a spotlight on the northeast of Sheffield owing to the development of the Olympic Legacy Park, set to be a national centre of excellence in health and wellbeing. So, isn’t it time we turned our attention to the waterway linking this and the heart of the city?

Thinking about all of this, I find myself wondering if we have another Kelham Island on our hands. An area once integral to the industrial heartland of Sheffield, left neglected until somebody realised that our past has an important role to play in the future prosperity of this city.

Go and see for yourself. Later this month, there really is something exciting happening at Victoria Quays. The Canal and River Trust – the charity that is helping us fall back in love with our country’s canals – is holding a festival across two days and two sites, to celebrate our waterfront.

The Sheffield Waterfront Festival takes place on Saturday 23 September, when Victoria Quays will be brought to life with live music, street food, canoe and fishing tasters, boats trips and art exhibitions. On Sunday 24, the action will be found at riverside location, Kelham Island Museum, where there will be music, BBQs, kayaking and of course, real ale.

The Sheffield Tinsley Canal is an asset for our city. The Sheffield Waterfront Festival will be, I’m sure, the first of many opportunities to see it showcased.

See you there.

HS2 is the route for opportunity

On Monday 17 July, the government announced the HS2 route. Our MD, Alexis, explores what this means now for South Yorkshire.

The government has now confirmed its solution for bringing HS2 to our region. A lot of ink and some political blood has been spilt getting to this point. The arguments for and against various options have been rehearsed time and again. Hopefully, we can now draw a line in the sand.

Communities near the new route need our politicians to come together to minimise the impact HS2 will have on their homes and businesses. They need a process that is clear and transparent. They need certainty and financial compensation. Business and political leaders need to agree how the arrival of high-speed rail can supercharge economic growth.

The hard work starts now. Compelling ideas are around every corner. We have a window of opportunity to come together to demand more action from government to give us the infrastructure our region needs to excel.

Here is what I think we need next. A commitment to fund a high-speed rail hub in Sheffield City Centre that connects HS2 with high-speed rail to Manchester and beyond. Final confirmation we will get a second HS2 station that is located even closer to Rotherham and Barnsley. A clear signal from Ministers they will support Doncaster Sheffield Airport’s bid to get a rail link directly off the East Coast Mainline. This rail link would bring our airport within less than 80 minutes’ travel time of London. Cargo and passenger numbers will go through the roof as airlines launch flights to new destinations. The benefits for global trade and travel from our region would be huge.

Closer-to-home travel also needs attention. The arrival of HS2 needs to be a catalyst for far better rail links, from Barnsley to Chesterfield and from Doncaster to Dore. With better connectivity will come more businesses. More businesses will bring more jobs and more investment.

A world-class rail network, including an airport with a direct connection to the capital, would put our region on a different footing. We would rival regions around the world. We would be able to compete for investment and events we can currently only dream of. Want an example? Silverstone have said from 2019 the F1 Grand Prix will need a new home. Is this too fanciful? Perhaps; but the government’s announcement means we are building up a head of steam. Let’s grab the opportunity.

What the Queen did – and did not – say at the State Opening of Parliament

The Queen’s speech may have been light on content, but it doesn’t make that content any less important.  Unsurprisingly, it was dominated by Brexit bills as the UK starts to define the laws that will govern its exit from the EU. This sense of focus on Brexit was heightened by the removal of several more controversial key Tory policies, indicating both the relative weakness of the Prime Minister’s position in her party and the ongoing negotiations with the DUP to establish a majority.

On Brexit, May is looking to maximise certainty for British businesses and reduce the burden on the UK government of managing the process, by effectively copying and pasting EU Laws into UK Laws and cutting out the bits she doesn’t like. This sounds simple enough. However, the relationship between EU law and UK law is complex, and interwoven, built up over more than 40 years.  One thing is clear – her position in many key areas hasn’t softened. A bill will legislate for the end of free movement from the EU with an indication that only those with high skills, or those in most demand – the ‘best’ and ‘brightest’ – are allowed into the country.

Other Brexit bills include:

  • New nuclear safeguards, with plans for regulation from the UK rather than EU
  • Measures towards an independent trade policy

There were signs that the Government intends to refocus Britain back towards advanced technologies in the wake of Brexit and the financial crash.  Bills to enable commercial spaceflight from the UK and the expansion and regulation of automated and electric vehicles hint that the Government is serious about its Industrial Strategy and cementing the UK’s place as a leading location for the development of these technologies.

Equally, the turbulence and volatility of both Brexit and a hung Parliament do not seem to have undermined the Government’s commitment to invest in HS2.  Powers to build the second phase of the high-speed rail line were included, fast-tracking the ability to deliver the western leg up to Crewe, bringing HS2 within touching distance of Manchester ahead of the original schedule.  Significantly, the Bill included powers to compulsory purchase the land along the new routes required to build HS2 – a crucial element needed to physically deliver such a complex project. These moves should reinforce confidence that the Government still intends to deliver on at least this element of high speed rail for the UK.

Given the dominance of Brexit in the UK Government’s consciousness, it seems incredible to think that we had never heard of Brexit two or three years ago.  But a year is a long time in politics.  It remains to be seen whether Theresa May will still be referred to as the Prime Minister long enough to implement many of the Bills she proposed yesterday.

Will May’s gamble deliver a better Brexit?

Brexit, Trump and a Hung Parliament.  What the business, development and investment community crave is stability.  Yet, as the ripples of the Brexit vote and financial crisis continue, we have precisely the opposite.  Many have questioned the election result. There is a narrative that explains it though, demonstrating that the societal trends exposed by the EU referendum hold true.

Theresa May built her campaign around the ability to force through a hard Brexit against EU negotiators. In doing so she failed to acknowledge two key points revealed by the very vote that made Brexit a reality.

Turnout for the 2015 general election was around 66%, yet for the EU referendum it was over 72%.  That equates to an extra 3 million votes.  In other words, a good number of non-voters in 2015, voted in the 2016 EU referendum.  Who these 3 million are matters.

Younger people from prosperous areas are typically more pro-EU and on the left, yet over recent elections, the young have been far less likely to vote.  It’s likely that part of the extra votes in the EU referendum came from these younger, anti-establishment remain voters. In deprived areas, election turnout is often low, yet support for Brexit was high.  So, it’s likely that part of the extra 3 million in the EU referendum came also from deprived anti-establishment leave voters.

Fast forward to the recent general election and turnout was 68.7%: around half of the extra 3 million votes cast in the EU referendum fell away.  Yet almost half – around 1.6 million – voted again.

Theresa May’s campaign message to deliver a strong Brexit ensured the younger anti-establishment ‘remain’ voters turned out once more against her. What May also failed to recognise was that much of the anti-establishment ‘leave’ vote would revert to not voting.  Add in May’s U-turn on social care, no-shows at TV debates, and a better than predicted Labour performance and you have the result.

For business, the outcome tells us a few things: the tensions between the haves and have-nots aren’t going away – we need the right skills system to help business and young people from all backgrounds to succeed. The result will probably see a more conciliatory approach to Brexit negotiations and access to the single market, better for local manufacturers who export to Europe.

We are unlikely to see an end to uncertainty, which will risk delays to investment – this could be damaging. Finally, we live in a febrile world – for the investment and development community, thoughtful consultation, engagement and communication with stakeholders and communities is more important than ever in ensuring developments go ahead.

Leadership cannot come from government alone

Tasked with writing a column before the general election, knowing that by the time it is published the results will be in, is no easy business. The latest blog from our MD Alexis is the result of such a challenge. Here he explains that, regardless of the election result, private sector businesses need also to step up to a leadership role.

Putting a newspaper together is a complicated business. Columns like mine often have to be written a week in advance. That is a challenge this month as I want to write about the result of the general election before the election takes place. I am not about to make any predictions but I know one thing for certain. The voice from local business needs to be a strong and powerful influence on whoever is elected.

Leadership cannot come alone from our politicians. The government is facing unprecedented financial pressures. Whether you are in favour of more or less public spending you cannot deny one thing: the amount of debt owed by our country has grown tremendously and continues to grow. Our government spends more than it receives. Coupled with Brexit and the terrible challenges we face around security and terrorism, one thing is clear: any UK government is going to be under pressure from day one.

Business has a vital role to play in sharing the burden. Not just big business but every business, in every town and every city across the land. Business can provide the leadership on those key issues that will shape our economy for years to come. How do we generate more jobs? How do we attract more investment? How do we deal with Brexit? All of these questions can only be answered sensibly if businesses have a strong and powerful voice in the debate.

Politicians need to listen but businesses need to step up and be heard. As ever, Sheffield leads the way. In our own city we have a strong and active Chamber of Commerce. We have the private sector-led Business Improvement District that is investing thousands in improving our city centre. I have recently been involved in setting up the Sheffield Property Association. The first Association outside of London to represent the organisations that own and invest in buildings across our city. Together they invest billions in our local economy and will be a strong and powerful voice to drive investment and economic growth.

The morning after the election all eyes will be on Westminster, but it is worth remembering that leadership needs to come from us all; businesses included.

Nuclear, wind and the battle for trust and support

Written by Sam Rowe.
On the northern coasts of England, two fascinating stories are being played out which may determine the future of our energy industry. On the west coast, the uncertainty of Moorside and the nuclear industry, while on the east coast, the optimism of offshore wind.

 Moorside and Cumbria

The proposed nuclear power plant in Moorside, near Sellafield in Cumbria, has promised be transformational to the region. It is estimated that the £15bn project will bring over 20,000 jobs to the area, and confidence in it going ahead was high. Consultation had already begun on the overhead pylons to carry the power generated to the National Grid, with a planning application for the connections due to be submitted this year. Before the recent by-election in nearby constituency Copland, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to commit his support to the proposed development in an interview, which was a significant factor in Labour’s subsequent historic defeat of the seat to the Conservatives.

Since that by-election, the future of the project looks far less certain that it was originally thought. The US nuclear division of Toshiba – who had a 60% stake in NuGen, the consortium behind Moorside, recently filed for bankruptcy. It was planned that this division, Westinghouse Electric, would build the three reactors for the proposed plant. Since the bankruptcy was announced, Toshiba started a review of its involvement in non-Japanese nuclear projects. Since then, 40% stake holder Engie has pulled out of the project, leaving Toshiba the sole backer, and National Grid’s plans for connecting pylons have been put on hold. Local MPs are calling for Government intervention.

Wind and the Humber

On the other side of the country, things could not be more different. At the recent Offshore Wind Connections event in Bridlington, delegates were waxing lyrical about the promising future of the offshore wind industry in the Humber. £20bn has already been invested into the industry in the UK, with the new wind turbine factory Green Port Hull being a huge success for employment in the local area. Lord Haskins, chair of the Humber Local Enterprise Partnership, stated that offshore wind is already producing 10% of all electricity in the country, and could well be producing up to 40% in the next 15 years. Through cuts in costs and technological advances leading to increased productivity and competitiveness, offshore wind has made itself an increasingly attractive investment. It looks likely that it will soon be able to rely less on Government backing and stand on its own two feet. As Hugh McNeal, chief executive of RenewableUK put it, offshore wind has gone ‘from the sidelines to the mainstream in less than a decade.’

Here we have two contrasting case studies of relationships with the wider political and economic stakeholder groups. The Moorside project, with its huge potential but financial risks, has less and less enthusiasm from the global business community, yet still has the political leverage to topple parties in the local area. Government will no doubt do as much as possible to make the project happen – Greg Clark has already visited Seoul to talk with South Korean Government officials to secure investment. In contrast, the offshore wind industry, even in the Humber region, still receives mixed views amongst the prospective MP candidates, and is constantly having to justify the benefits it has brought. It is unlikely anyone will lose their seat in Lincolnshire or the Humber due to a lack of support for offshore wind.

Evidently, the offshore wind industry still has a way to go to garner trust and support in the regional and national political communities. It is doing all the right things by decreasing costs, creating jobs and increasing investment returns, but so far has yet to spark the imagination of the country at large. A lot of work has been done to make offshore wind a viable, mainstream source of energy. Yet more work is required to convince everyone that this is the case.

Counter Context supports Sheffield Sharks community programme

We are delighted to announce that we’ve scored an exciting sponsorship deal with the Sheffield Sharks, becoming partners of the community development ‘Respect’ programme, along with our sister company, Quality Context.

We launched the sponsorship earlier this month when we brushed up on our basketball skills with an exclusive lesson from Sharks’ player, Zach Gachette and head coach, Atiba Lyons. As corporate partners of the Respect programme, we will provide financial and hands-on support to the programme, which reaches over 600 young people in the Sheffield City Region every year.

This programme is aimed at children aged 9 to 11 who are vulnerable and at risk to pressures in society including cyber bullying, child exploitation and crime. The Respect programme is designed to give children a dynamic learning experience, which includes six hours of basketball coaching and two hours of in-school education. Sharks players, several of which are qualified teachers, deliver the basketball and educational lessons, a unique aspect to the programme which has proven successful in engaging young people.

The programme culminates in an annual cross-school tournament, hosted at the home of Sheffield Sharks, the English Institute of Sport, providing the children with an opportunity to come together, celebrate and showcase their skills.

In 2017 alone, the Respect programme will be delivered in 10 schools in the city region and both us and Quality Context are happy to help make this happen.

Kate Krachai, Managing Director of Quality Context, said:

“The Sheffield Sharks are doing an amazing job, not only of increasing awareness of our impressive basketball credentials in Sheffield, but of using their position and reach to make a positive impact to the lives and prospects of young people in the region.

“Both companies are proud to be based in Sheffield and once we heard about the fantastic work the Sharks are doing in the Sheffield City Region, we had no hesitation in sponsoring such an inspirational programme.

“The basketball lesson given to our employees was brilliant and we saw first-hand how natural the players are at motivating and inspiring people to learn new skills.

“Our teams are looking forward to getting involved; volunteering at the summer tournament and contributing to some of the lessons delivered on the Respect programme to ensure this vital initiative continues to support young people in our region.”

Estates Gazette Annual Property Summit – an overview

On May 18, Account Director Harriet Knowles attended the Estates Gazette Annual Property Summit in Manchester. Here, she summarises the main points and take away questions from the event. For more information on anything discussed below, contact Harriet on

Amongst many graphs, figures and predictions, some headline points stood out from the economic and market forecasts, including references to Brexit, office rents and inner-city land values.

The Brexit vote hasn’t caused investment to plummet as some predicted, those who were in the middle of schemes are carrying on. However, things will undoubtedly get more challenging for complicated, long-term projects. The main investors are certainly less inclined to fund large schemes in their entirety and are looking to fund individual elements instead. The increase in international investment in the UK regions was a point that stood out. As it stands, 43% of large schemes outside of London are now all or part funded by non-domestic capital.

Land values are starting to rise in key regional cities. While seen as a good thing from a viability perspective, an increase in office rents may become an issue for Manchester’s competitiveness – will higher rents result in occupiers looking at other key northern cities such as Leeds and potentially Sheffield?
The issue of how European Regional Development Funding is going to be replaced was a hot topic of debate. Eamonn Boylan, Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Combined Authority, waxed lyrical about how the North West Evergreen Fund had provided debt finance to underpin several key developments. There was talk of a ‘crisis’ looming if ERDF isn’t replaced by the UK Government.

The week following Andy Burnham’s election as Mayor, it was interesting to hear Eamonn Boylan speak. His tone, while positive, was discernibly less celebratory and more focussed on what issues Greater Manchester still needs to grapple with. The new GM administration is going to have much more of a focus on addressing Greater Manchester’s economic divide. The focus will be on connecting disadvantaged communities to the opportunities in central Manchester. Boylan stated that development plans and measures of effectiveness will be about whether “someone from Collyhurst or Moss Side feels any benefit from what’s going on in the city.”

On the issue of housing, he restated Greater Manchester’s need for 225,000 new homes over 20 years. The draft Spatial Framework will be reviewed again with an aim of reducing the impact on the Green Belt; he explained that one way to limit Green Belt release is to go for urban intensification in Manchester and also to build within the regional towns. They will go back out to consultation on the GMSF in September.

All in all, the event provided useful insightful into the context of development in North of England, with a specific focus on Greater Manchester. Eamonn Boylan’s perspective on making development relevant and meaningful to the communities it affects, and to ensure that investment has maximum reach, felt particularly poignant as something we at Counter Context strive to achieve for all of our clients.



Devolution: why it’s time to pay attention

Our MD Alexis offers his perspective on why devolution matters and why Sheffield City Region will benefit from greater powers.

In the midst of a general election campaign, with Brexit hovering on the horizon, it is natural to want to tune out and switch off from politics altogether.

Before you reach for the red button though, you might want to pause and pay attention to a less high profile topic that can define our region for the next 50 years.

Devolution. Very simply this is the idea of our region being given more powers. Instead of Whitehall telling us what to do, we will be able to make decisions that will shape our economy and help us to create more jobs.

Devolution is a good idea. It makes sense that we are in control of what our region needs to do to become more successful. The problem is that not many people, including businesses, are paying attention to what is going on. For too many the debate about devolution provokes a yawn and drooping eye lids.

This is why it matters.  The government has said if we want more powers we need a mayor who will be elected by local people. Birmingham and Manchester elected their mayors two weeks ago, Sheffield City Region did not.

We are 12 months behind the curve because of legal challenges made by Derbyshire County Council who argued that people in Chesterfield had not been consulted properly on the question of whether the town should join Sheffield City Region. Before you drop to sleep it is important to consider the consequences.

If we do not get behind our devolution deal we will lose the opportunity. The government will not give us the powers we need to grow our economy and create more jobs. In very simple terms we will be left behind.

This should worry everyone who runs a business or lives in our region. Our city region needs to compete globally. We need the connectivity to access global markets. We need the powers to create brilliant places to live. We need to find innovative ways to raise money that will fund frontline services.  Without devolution, it will be harder to attract investment and create the jobs we need.

Later this summer there will be another consultation on our devolution deal. The roar from local businesses needs to be heard across the region. Devolution matters and must happen.