Viewpoint: Michelle Percy

May 1, 2018

In North East Times’ latest Viewpoint, property writer Chris Dobson talks with  Michelle Percy, assistant director of  commercial development and strategic property at Newcastle City Council

When Convergys signed up for The Rocket in Stephenson Quarter you must have been delighted to say the least..
In my previous role at property developer Clouston Group, I was part of the team that helped construct the Convergys deal. It was significant because it created top quality jobs on a gateway site into the city. It also demonstrated that the innovative deal between Clouston and the council after the recession was the right thing to do to deliver jobs. It informed subsequent deals and more jobs were delivered.

Convergys’ website says it ‘delivers consistent, quality customer experiences in 58 languages from more than 150 locations around the globe’. What does its presence in Newcastle city centre say about Newcastle as a location for international businesses?
We always knew that Newcastle is an international city, but this major letting confirmed that and demonstrated we could deliver world class office accommodation in the heart of the city. The benefits were: a city centre location, close to a major transport hub with easy access to a talent pool, high performing universities and colleges. We were also able to draw on the expertise of Invest Newcastle, who created a soft-landing platform for investment and infrastructure for businesses to access quickly and easily.

Civic Centre is going through considerable change to become a public sector hub. Apart from extending the life of this landmark building, how will it help Newcastle’s economy?
It provides first-class office accommodation in the heart of the city, clustering up to 1800 jobs that might otherwise have moved out of town. In recent research by Metro Dynamix, cities are described as being economic engines for growth, and so a diverse mix of residents, business and leisure in city centres goes a long way to energising the region’s economy.

You were recruited to target opportunities for commercial development and maximise the ability to generate profits for the City Council. I assume the Civic Centre project is the key opportunity but are there others in the city?
Absolutely. The city’s mantra is ‘we’re open for business’ so that means ensuring that our business-facing services have the attention to detail that business requires and that we apply commercial thinking to those processes. Those opportunities exist in property, markets, tourism and major events, all of which bring benefits to the city. Our three big regeneration schemes, Stephenson Quarter, Newcastle Helix [formally Science Central] and Pilgrim Street, are all making good progress.

Apart from Newcastle in North East England, towns with the same name occur in the other three countries of the UK and in at least seven countries worldwide – how does this help the region’s identity?
There are other towns and cities called Newcastle but, for me, there is only one Newcastle. We have a strong brand and sense of place. Thanks to our international connections and friendly people, the city is known all over the world. It has grown over hundreds of years as a centre for trade, culture and governance. We celebrated 800 years of having a mayor last year – how many cities can do that? Today we are a Core City and member of the Eurocities network of European cities. We have an international airport, a Premiership football team, great cultural assets, and host the world’s biggest half marathon. Newcastle is also hosting the Great Exhibition of the North – expected to be one of the UK’s biggest visitor attractions this summer. Is it any wonder that Newcastle is one of the most popular cities to visit in the UK? It is good to know there are other Newcastles out there, but I am not sure they necessarily contribute to our identity. We do that ourselves, and I am sure the other Newcastles do the same.

Finally, there is much on the horizon that can impact on the UK’s economy and therefore upon the North East. Do we have what it takes to get through a potentially challenging time?
Absolutely. We have a strong business base, world class cultural assets, an estimated population of 293,000 and growing, strong leadership and a clear ambition to bring a Devolution deal to the region that drives growth. We are well placed to navigate our way through any challenges. Despite austerity, we have succeeded in growing the city because our institutions and communities have worked together. We know we are stronger together.

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