Brum Scrum

Birmingham’s rapid upscaling of its city centre is seeing a sea change in the make-up of the region’s real estate departments. Kevin Nagle reports

In Birmingham over recent years city centre redevelopments such as the ICC, Mailbox and Bull Ring have not just transformed the city’s skyline, but have also been the catalyst for the radical restructuring of the legal services industry in the Midlands.

This significant market activity has created a demand for specialised commercial property services in Birmingham. Consequently, many of the city’s firms have chosen to present their property services as their ‘flagship’ departments, in some cases replacing the corporate lawyers who were so frequently the headline-makers of the previous decade.

Workflows into Birmingham’s property departments have come from a multitude of national developer clients and financial institutions. Leading examples of outward expansion of the city centre are Colmore Plaza, a 300,000sq ft office development; high-profile residential developments at Arena Central, Eastside, and St Paul’s Place; and mixed-use schemes such as Eleven Brindley Place. The core business district of Colmore Row is also being transformed with the start of construction of Ballymore’s Snow Hill development.

In response to such development, the structure of law firms and the nature of work undertaken in Birmingham has adapted. The traditional handful of high-profile players such as Eversheds, Pinsent Masons and Wragge & Co have been joined by a host of firms migrating to Birmingham in order to compete for slices of the property market. BPE, Clarke Willmott and Shoosmiths are all newcomers and self-evidently ‘property led’ in focus.

This trend clearly builds upon the unquestionable achievement of Wragges, which has pioneered the way for the bulk of high-value property work to migrate from London to Birmingham. In consequence, Birmingham’s property professionals have built up substantial expertise and enviable reputations, while also being able to offer competitive rates as a result of operating with a substantially lower cost base than their competitors in the capital.

Shakespeare Putsman is among those that regard property as a crucial part of its plans for the future, with the department representing nearly a third of the firm.

The evolution of professional services in Birmingham has caused a ripple effect in the job market. Quality property lawyers have become a scarce commodity. Consequently, Birmingham has acted as a magnet for young lawyers from across the Midlands, leaving more local firms in the surroundings with major headaches over retaining staff. Salaries in Birmingham have inevitably been hiked disproportionately in recent years, with Shoosmiths in particular reported as paying over the market rate to successfully bring in talent.

Most indicators suggest that the buoyant Birmingham property market will continue. The Drivers Jonas Crane Survey (2007) forecasts healthy growth, particularly as the transportation infrastructure has been improved, with the upgrading of New Street Station and the extension of the runway at Birmingham International Airport. This trend is indicated clearly by the relocation of several government departments and quangos to the region, including the Insolvency Service and the Gambling Commission.

Kevin Nagle is head of property at Shakespeare Putsman