The Dispensary of Prosperity

The creative industries need to draw a line. A line around the jobs and businesses that the Government keeps saying are so important to the UK’s future. A line around the conditions for success that make the UK so strong in growing creative industries. A line that stops the short-sighted actions of a few people seeking a fast profit from undermining the basis for that success.

For the last six months a creative hub in Bath called The Dispensary has been my working home. It’s home to a dozen or so creative businesses from a three-man illustration/animation studio to a series of freelance designers, photographers and writers. It was set up by a thriving design agency, Radio, the owners of which are the brains behind The Dispensary. I love working there so much I blogged about it last month as the role model for other creative hubs.

Next week that all comes to an end. Suddenly. The building is being sold out from under the feet of the current tenants. At ten days’ notice. The owners spent months negotiating with the current tenants to buy the building and keep the creative hub. The owners were all set to accept the offer. Then a property developer suggested that he’d pay more. And suddenly the creative community was told it had ten days to vacate. The current tenants weren’t even given a chance to match the offer.

I don’t know the finer details of the sale of the building. And this is not a rant against property developers. The point is that a highly effective creative hub, providing a platform for the business success of up to a dozen businesses, is now being broken up. For all the fine words from Government and local council about supporting the creative industries in the UK, another small spark of growth is being extinguished. I don’t know whether the developer will be turning the building into luxury apartments (which is what I suspect) but what Bath, like so many cities in the UK, needs now is jobs, entrepreneurial activity, the basis for economic growth. Small businesses provide that growth and the creative sector is widely heralded as a UK success story.

This is my story. There are hundreds of identical stories across the UK at the moment. Of small, entrepreneurial businesses being thrown off track by short-term thinking. We’re not looking for public funding or subsidy. We’re not looking for special treatment. We’re looking for an understanding that if the UK is to grow out of recession we need to think about achieving a balance between jobs and property development. We need councils to fight for the kind of balanced city centres that people want to live and work in. We need the wider community to realise that creative industries generate exactly the kind of environment that makes commercial property development successful in many cases. After all, many cities are currently considering exactly how to catalyse the kind of creative hub that The Dispensary had already built, by itself, in Bath.

It’s probably too late to effect a different outcome for The Dispensary. But for Bath and dozens of other UK cities, I hope we can build up a debate about balancing the need for more housing with the need for small company growth. And the creative industries in particular need to stand up and be counted. We need to start drawing a line.

Make our cities fit for cycling

The Times Cities fit for cycling
Today the House of Commons will debate the vital issue of cycle safety for the first time since 1996. The debate comes after pressure from The Times’ national campaign to make our cities fit for cycling, supported by Sustrans and other cycling lobby groups. As a regular cycle commuter over the past five years, it’s a subject close to my heart but one that I passionately feel is in Britain’s interests on so many fronts – safety; health of the nation; traffic pollution; congestion on the roads and on public transport; sustainability of cities; participation in sport.

The Times initiated the campaign only after one of their staff was nearly killed in an accident. In November Times journalist Mary Bowers was just yards from arriving at work on her bike when she was hit by a lorry. Mary, 27, is still not conscious and is making a slow recovery in hospital. More than 27,000 cyclists have been killed or seriously injured on British streets in the past 10 years and the number seriously injured in 2011 was the highest this century.

On average, 66 miles were travelled using a bike by every male in the UK in 2010, with a much lower figure of just 19 miles for females. A total of three billion vehicle miles were made by bike during 2010, which is one per cent of the total journeys made by all vehicles. In 1950, 12.4 billion vehicle miles were travelled by bike.

The urgency of the debate on mutual respect among road users was highlighted last week when Bristol bus driver Gavin Hill was jailed for 17 months for intentionally running down cyclist Phillip Mead in April 2011. The incident was caught on CCTV (below). Mead suffered a broken leg as a result of the incident.


The Early Day motion for today’s debate states:

That this House believes that cycling is an extremely efficient form of transport which is good for health and the environment; supports successive governments’ commitment to encourage the use of bikes and reduce the number of cyclist-related accidents; notes with concern that the number of cyclists killed on Britain’s roads rose by 7 per cent. between 2009 and 2010; further notes that a disproportionate number of cycling accidents involve vans and lorries; supports The Times’ Cities Fit for Cycling campaign; and calls on the Government to take further action to improve cycling infrastructure and reduce the number of casualties on roads.

Only 67 MPs have current signed up to attend today’s debate (click here to see if yours is planning to do so). Those 67 are comprised of 35 Labour, 18 Liberal Democrat, 8 Conservative and 6 others. This from a country where our Prime Minister and the Mayor of London are both high-profile cyclists. And surely cycling shouldn’t be a party political issue.

There are only winners in making Britain safer for cyclists – what’s being proposed involves spending no new money, merely focusing a small proportion (2% of the Highways Agency spend) of current budgets on measures that will make Britain a better place for those on two wheels. Which will of course in turn make Britain a better place even for those who don’t want to enjoy the freedom of cycle commuting.


7 billion

Source: UNFPA

In a fortnight the world’s population will reach seven billion. 7,000,000,000 people. Just 12 years ago it was 6 billion. When I was at school it was a mere 4 billion (contrary to popular belief, I was not at school in the mid nineteenth century – that was just in 1975). But it’s not even the pace of growth that’s so stunning, it’s the absolute number as well. Can we feed and educate that number? Is there enough fresh water? Can we find enough jobs? Can we produce enough energy, in a sustainable way, to support that number of inhabitants?

Of course the problem is different in various parts of the world. In developed Western nations the 7bn milestone will be reached as governments face increasing problems of an ageing population and low birth rates. In China and India, government policies have already slowed what were recently soaring birth rates. It’s in Sub-Saharan Africa that the greatest challenges of rapid population growth appear. The regional population of 900 million could reach 2 billion in 40 years, accounting for half the projected global population growth over that time. The International Water Management Institute has predicted that by 2025 about 1.8 billion people will live in places suffering from severe water scarcity.

Another statistic caught my eye this week that shows how, even within that 7 billion figure, huge changes are happening. More than 20 of the world’s top 50 cities ranked by GDP will be located in Asia by the year 2025, up from 8 in 2007.

Source: McKinsey Quarterly

In this new landscape of urban economic power, Shanghai and Beijing will outrank Los Angeles and London, while Mumbai and Doha will surpass Munich and Denver. The implications for countries’ economic relationships, and the world’s sustainability strategy, are profound.

The United Nations forecasts that population growth will start to slow now, but the number of people in the world will continue to grow until it reaches around 10 billion (soon after 2080). Of course cities will become an ever more important part of how we might possibly accommodate so many people. Which means we will need to start thinking very differently about how we live together.