Over 4,500 athletes from 72 countries will compete in the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham over the next two weeks.
But once medals are awarded, what will be the legacy of the games on the property market in the UK’s second-largest city?
Birmingham was not the original choice of host city; Durban was initially selected in 2015, but had to give up host status due to financial constraints. From the outset, the new organisers were determined to prove there was no need to spend hundreds of millions, and build a plethora of new stadiums, to put on a brilliant games.
Alexander Stadium in Perry Barr, which first opened in 1972, has been revamped and will host the athletics as well as the opening and closing ceremonies. Events will also take place at venues across the West Midlands, including Coventry, Warwick and Leamington Spa. The Aquatics Centre in Sandwell is the only venue built from scratch.
It is this focus on sustainability that the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games will be remembered for, according to Gareth Bradford, executive director of housing, property and regeneration at the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).
“We want this to be the first Commonwealth Games to create a carbon-neutral legacy and set a benchmark for future games,” says Bradford. “We are keen to use the games to maximise our influence in addressing key socioeconomic issues, including equality, diversity and inclusion; social value, accessibility and human rights.”
Julia Chowings, a partner at property consultancy Gerald Eve, says the enhancements have brought a range of benefits to the local area and community.
“There’s obvious things like updates to transport and accessibility, but also there is wider social value in terms of the job creation, apprenticeships, the schools, the community facilities that will be there after the games have gone.”
Jon Ryan-Gill, who works alongside Chowings as a partner at Gerald Eve, says the games have “turbocharged” plans for better public transport links in the region. In 2020, West Midlands mayor Andy Street announced a 2040 West Midlands travel plan, which included 150 miles of new metro lines across the region, in addition to the two HS2 stations planned in Birmingham.
“Transport plans have had an early boost thanks to the games. The development of Perry Barr and some of the other stations close to sports venues early on really built momentum, which is carrying on throughout the city,” says Ryan-Gill.
“Birmingham is a forward-thinking city. It is all about helping people move around on public and greener transport.”
Boost to house prices
Transport links and housing are inextricably linked in any area – and as well as more stations and more frequent trains, Birmingham homeowners can also expect their house prices to rise, says Stuart Smith, director of valuation advisory at JLL Birmingham.
Smith says JLL estimates that over the next five years, the cost of an average Birmingham home could rise by 4.9% a year – the biggest increase for any city in the UK – while rental values look set to rise by 2.8% a year.
It is not just house prices that will increase, but the amount of housing available, too.
Initially, an athletes’ village was going to be built in Perry Barr and then turned into housing after the games. However, the Covid pandemic threatened to delay completion of the village in time for the games, forcing the organisers to rethink their plans.
Now, athletes will instead be housed in existing local hotel and university accommodation, and Birmingham City Council has moved straight on to delivering the legacy use of the village site.
Birmingham City Council leader Ian Ward says almost 1,000 homes are nearing completion as part of a longer-term plan to create 5,000 new homes for the people of Birmingham in the north west of the city.
“As it stands, the first phase of the wider regeneration has 29% of homes at an affordable rate, thanks to our efforts to secure as much support as possible from the government through its First Homes scheme,” he says.
“Between now and 2040, we want to ensure 35% of all new homes in Perry Barr are available on an affordable basis, in line with our city-wide ambition.”
The games have not just been a catalyst for the development of housing and the enhanced transport links, says WMCA’s Bradford, but also for sustained investment for Birmingham in the decades to come.
From 28 July, the city will host an eight-day Commonwealth Business Hub, led by the Department for International Trade and the West Midlands Growth Company. It will bring around 1,500 business and government leaders together to discuss opportunities for partnerships and growth.
“It won’t just be sports fans sitting up and taking note; the games will reach key decision-makers in the private sector, placing the region firmly on the map for institutional investors, developers and other prospective partners who will soon be critical to the region hitting its target of building 215,000 new homes by 2031,” says Bradford.
“The West Midlands has already been confirmed this year as the fastest-growing region in terms of foreign direct investment in the UK, and we are confident that the games will drive further domestic and international investment opportunities.”
Doubts about impact
But not everyone is convinced the games will have an impact on the whole city. James Craig is founder of Oval Real Estate, which owns a 42-acre heritage site in Digbeth that is being developed as a multi-use area with food and beverage, leisure and office facilities. The area, he predicts, will not benefit significantly from the games.
“Only a very small part of the games is happening in Digbeth – some volleyball – so is there a legacy for our bit of the city? No. Is there a boom for the whole city? Yes, for the simple reason that the international spotlight of the games is very good for the city’s profile,” he says.
“But the city has to respond to that, you know; you can’t just have a Commonwealth Games and expect that because you’ve had the games, good things will happen. The legacy needs to be kept alight by people after the games.”
Gerald Eve’s Chowings says this is the crucial point. “The legacy needs to continue at pace straight after the games. We need to really take advantage of it,” she says.
“There needs to be that clear political drive, focus and planning on legacy, rather than thinking that the games have finished and other regeneration will happen over time.
“You have really got to strike while the iron is hot and the focus is on the city. You have to harness the positive feeling that comes out of the games to keep that momentum going.”
But Bradford is determined that this will happen, as almost 5,000ha of brownfield land has been primed for redevelopment in the region.
“Over the coming years, the plan is to work with sector-leading developers, investors, landowners and our public sector partners to unlock swathes of brownfield sites,” he says.
No matter who takes home the sporting medals over the next two weeks, Birmingham and the local economy look set to be winners.