The times are a-changing' in our city... at least Mary from Glasgow appreciates it

The past month has been the traditional silly season, that time of year when news-starved media covers off the strangest of stories. 

Some of this year’s oddities were gifted by Viscountess Lady Scarsdale, who said she wanted a machine gun to kill badgers at the Kedleston estate, a story covered with some glee in the nationals.

She also claimed Derby was ‘soulless’ and so shopped at Fosse Park near Leicester. This, she said, had the added bonus of saving money, as the parking is free, as opposed to intu Derby, which charges. 

Fosse Park, (with 30 stores compared to intu’s 200), may have become an incredibly vibrant retail experience since I was last there, and the Viscountess may own a car that doesn’t use any fuel, but I take exception to her description of Derby.

However, the Lady was not alone. 

An ex-Derby County player, Mick Jones, joined in, claiming the city was now a ‘refuse tip’. 

Despite being a lifelong season ticket holder, I couldn’t remember Mick, so I Googled him and found that he had played the same numbers of games for Derby as I had, none.

We live in a free country and all are entitled to opinions.

I sense that we could all fall into a similar trap, when comparing any place special to us 40 years ago, to how it is in 2016.

Nostalgia clouds memory and we suffer disappointment in seeing how time washes away places we loved.

The Viscountess and the footballer reveal this in their own way – one missing a ‘Tavern’ on Irongate (‘which was very nice’), the other the Kardoma Café (where the ‘pretty girls in Derby amassed’).

I miss a chip shop in Normanton, which was located in someone’s front room (true), and the nearby Mafeking, where I had my first drink.

But, hey, times change and so do cities, in fact, so must cities. 

I often describe Derby as a city on a journey, and whilst that’s true of all places, it’s particularly true of Derby.

For whatever reason, during the 80s, 90s and early 00s, the city failed to attract enough investment and was falling behind. We are still on catch-up.

The platform for any place is the health of its economy and Derby’s is vibrant, having grown by 23% in the past 5 years, making it number one in the UK.

Growth in the city’s tax base marks it as 7th in the UK, the only English city outside of the south-east in the top ten.

I don’t make this stuff up – they are facts, plain and simple - and anyone who applies a few minutes of thought will understand why Derby performs this way.

Over the summer, Rolls-Royce won another £3billion of deals and Bombardier a further £1billion.

Complementing these mega-companies are hundreds of SMEs, working hard to grow their business.

Look at the performance of EPM Technology in Formula One, or Huub at the Rio Olympics, or Royal Crown Derby’s renaissance or SureScreen’s sheer innovation.

The Derby area is awash with entrepreneurial companies and they need the city to be attractive if they are to recruit and retain a talented workforce.

Since the first masterplan in 2015 over £3billion has been invested and progress made in schemes ranging from Westfield/intu to the Quad, Roundhouse, hotels, cinemas, city living, pubs and restaurants.

Our strategy is to improve Derby so we can retain more of the wealth we create.

And, guess what, it’s working - something like £130m additional spend is being made in the city each year, supporting thousands of jobs.

But, as with any city, we are a work in progress. 

It’s easy to spot the distressed areas in need of investment and regeneration, the important question is, what are we doing?

Derby City Council sometimes take a lot of flak but at least they have had the chutzpah to identify these areas and include them as priorities in the updated masterplan, launched this year.

The government hasn’t asked them to do this – they’ve done it off their own back when it would have been easier to hide.

Top of their list is a new performance venue for the Assembly Rooms site, a game-changer for the city, and sorting out the Becketwell area.

Regeneration is not about quick fixes and the time it takes can frustrate us all.

However, the Council has hired the world’s number one real estate company, Cushman and Wakefield, as their advisor. 

They are serious about doing something and are currently assembling land in Becketwell. This autumn the Council will be taking this and other opportunities to the market. We will then be able to asses investor appetite. 

Yeah, I want to wave a magic wand and make it all happen overnight but, it is important to be realistic about any city, its good and bad points.

Key is moving on from moaning to doing. 

The least we can all do is tell the world about our incredible strengths – remember nobody likes a whinger who doesn’t offer solutions.

Last week, the City Council revealed their public realm installation at the Spot and it took a visitor, Mary from Glasgow, to praise our city in a quote to the Telegraph:

“I’ve been to Derby about 6 times over the years and a lot has changed. The shopping centre is beautiful and it will look really nice outside it.” 

Thanks Mary, you can come back anytime.