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The key challenges Bristol's next mayor must face

Jeremy Richards explores the key concerns businesses need to address

With the mayoral elections only a few months away, the candidates will soon be hitting the campaign trail hard. Jeremy Richards, head of the Bristol office of property consultancy JLL, explores what the key concerns are for businesses that need to be addressed over the next five years.
Time and again, we see Bristol hitting headlines for being a desirable place to live and work, and there’s no doubt that the city appeals to people looking for quality of life and excellent job opportunities. But Bristol still has some way to go if it is to rival the likes of Birmingham and Manchester.
 Jeremy Richards
At our annual South West property market review, delegates told us what they think is the most important factor for growing the region’s economy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, transport infrastructure was the biggest cause for concern. What was more surprising for a group of largely property focused businesses was that investing in and developing the skills of the workforce is a more important issue than delivering new housing or office space.
This echoes the national ‘talent war’ which we are seeing across the UK and we must continue to invest in initiatives that ensure Bristol is well placed to nurture talent. Learning City is one of those projects that will encourage closer working between businesses, councils and education establishments. I would like to see more programmes aimed at school children to capture the imagination of young minds and show them everything Bristol has to offer in terms of career options as they develop.
Bristol’s historic infrastructure problems are well documented but I believe that the major new projects taking place throughout the city will make a real difference to Bristol’s appeal as a place to live and invest in, despite the short term pain many of us experience on a daily basis at the moment.
And it’s not just about easing the situation on the roads; Bristol has to make sure it’s a permeable city – one that is easy to move around in, whatever the mode of transport, where different districts are well connected. Creating good links from Temple Quay to Arena Island will be important, which should include pedestrian connections from the Temple Meads platforms. This will knit the new development into the existing cityscape, and is essential to creating a successful new neighbourhood.
Technological infrastructure is also crucial. The news that Bristol will be the UK’s next Gigabit City will mean internet connectivity will be up to 100 times faster than the UK average, and this will be a genuine draw for businesses looking to relocate from London and internationally. This is important for the region’s expanding digital technology sector, which has now been named as the most productive in the UK. We need to nurture this fast-growing industry, ensuring we deliver the high tech collaborative space that they need.
Bristol is a creative place that has an incredible ability to adapt to new challenges and opportunities. The next five years are going to be crucial if we are to make Bristol a truly globally competitive place – delivering the connectivity, talent and quality of life without losing the unique ‘Bristol spark’ that keeps people coming here.