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This week thousands from the built environment industry arrive in Leeds for the much-anticipated UK Real Estate Investment and Infrastructure Forum (UKREiiF).

The conference, now in its second year, promises to be a platform for healthy debate and discussion of the biggest challenges and opportunities facing the sector today.  Net zero, planning, transport, infrastructure and devolution are among the topics being discussed.

It’s the second time Leeds has hosted the event, and it is getting yet another shot at the gig next year.   As an event focused on regional investment, UKREiiF is well suited to its dynamic northern location.

Leeds has been a positive growth story over recent years, and is well and truly cementing itself as a key part of the ‘levelling up’ agenda.  Big business like Channel 4 chose Leeds as its base, creating jobs and attracting more talent to the city; government departments relocated there; and it became the home of the UK Infrastructure Bank.

In 2022, the city council estimated over 5,000 more people were living in Leeds than before the pandemic.  And it’s clear that investment in the city is increasing as development ramps up – Deloitte’s Crane Survey 2023 found 22 new developments broke ground in Leeds last year, the second highest number of construction new starts for over 15 years.

The city’s Local Plan is currently being developed with the aim of supporting growth and mapping out development to 2040.  There are plans to create more homes and essential employment spaces on the outskirts of the city too.  There’s even a new garden village on the horizon.

So what’s next for Leeds?  Where does it need to focus and how can the success of the city be a catalyst for the wider levelling up for the region?

Devolution is an important piece of the jigsaw.  Leeds is at the heart of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s (WYCA) area – with Mayor Tracey Brabin at the helm – and its growing popularity is in no small part due to its role as poster child of the region.

As a combined authority, WYCA is holding its own and working to better the region, influencing policy decisions from Westminster and holding the pen on issues that matter – the government’s recent announcement that an Investment Zone will be created in partnership with the authority is an exciting one.  The power of strong and joined up regional leadership cannot be underestimated.

Another important area of focus for Leeds over the coming years is connectivity.  The city had its setback with the abandonment of the HS2 rail leg, but recent stories have had a more successful ending.  Last week Mayor Brabin’s calls for the Transpennine Express to be nationalised were answered by government, after strong backing from other northern mayors.  Improving rail infrastructure will help not just Leeds but the rest of the north.

Of course, as for its local authority counterparts across the UK, net zero is also a priority.  Policies like Clean Air Zones are part of the solution, as is energy efficiency – last month the council announced plans to retrofit homes – and active, sustainable travel, as the city continues its rollout of electric bus fleets.

To boost its economic growth further, Leeds needs to attract inward investment and encourage businesses to put down roots there.  Like many cities, it has a focus on innovation and as part of this  is promoting itself as the base for new industries including agri-tech, advanced manufacturing, data centres and AI.  As its counterparts in the Midlands and Greater Manchester work to establish themselves as the home of battery manufacturing and media, Leeds is forging its own path and finding its niche.

We’re looking forward to discussing the future of the city, its northern neighbours, and regional investment across the rest of the country at this year’s UKREiiF.

Holly Bryden is an account director at Camargue