Published by kind permission of North East Times.

Digital infrastructure investment is of ‘critical importance’ to property location decisions, according to regional public/private sector property group Developing Consensus

The digital age increasingly touches all aspects of life, including the property sector. The availability of the right digital infrastructure is an important factor in both property investment decisions and also the location of footloose corporations looking to recruit younger, tech-savy staff.

Developing Consensus considers that continuing investment in the region’s digital infrastructure is of critical importance. The group has identified seven priorities, as part of its 2019 manifesto, that will enable Newcastle and the North East to compete nationally and provide the workspace needed by fast growth companies.

Short-term demands include the championing of the North East as a focus for ultrafast broadband. Newcastle was one of the first cities to pilot G.Fast technology as part of a pilot scheme provided by Openreach. We need to see this rolled out and extended further across the North East, together with Fibre to the Premises (FTTP).

The North East bid to be one of the initial testbeds for 5G was unsuccessful, but the work done focusing on the use of the Metro system as a ‘fibre optic backbone’ should be utilised to ensure the North East is in the next wave of 5G rollouts. The group would also like to see the expansion of the Go Digital Free Wifi zone to cover a greater proportion of North East city centres.

The property sector is an important part of the regional inward investment offer. Showcasing the digital infrastructure already here, and highlighting what is coming down the line, are both important messages. This helps make the case to businesses making location decisions, to attract young skilled workers and grow the regional economy.

Turning to medium to longer term demands, the group want continued investment in education, innovation and research, to further establish the North East as a national centre for excellence in digital technology.

The North East’s universities already provide a steady stream of new talent with 50,000 students studying STEM subjects. Investment in education and skills focused on digital technology will do the most to attract new employers to the city to tap into this talent. The Centre for Cloud Computing and Big Data is a leader in this regard, and a great example of what can be built upon.

Collaboration is also key. Digital clusters of like-minded businesses in shared workspaces have a magnetic effect. Also important is the crossover between technology businesses and public sector bodies, and also across business organisations such as Developing Consensus and Dynamo, who are championing the growth of these clusters.

The property world, which includes Developing Consensus members in the region, is already working to ensure that appropriate workspace is available for occupiers in the digital sector that embraces requirements for high bandwidth and collaborative workspaces such as Quorum’s Neon building, Hoults Yard and Sunderland’s Software City.

Author: Fergus Trim (Broadoak Asset Management).