What was British Land thinking? 

Liz Hamson leader

Presumably when it threw open the doors of Broadgate to the documentary makers from Channel 4, it didn’t realise the title of the documentary was going to be Boom, Bust and Bankers, but even so, it wasn’t the smartest move.

When has the property industry been given anything other than a rough ride by TV documentary makers? This week’s offering from C4 was no different, and any delusions on British Land’s part that it would showcase the great strides it has made to transform Broadgate from a closed-off office complex into a vibrant, mixed-use campus boasting restaurants, retail and leisure were revealed to be just that: delusions.

The documentary turned out to be more of an exposé of inequality in modern Britain than a showcase of exemplar placemaking. Shots of marketing and design experts discussing “enlivenment” and the symbolism of alphabet-shaped seats (no, me either) were juxtaposed with interviews with an Ecuadorian cleaner working all hours for a pittance and cable pullers bussed down from Hartlepool every week because there are no jobs back home.

This stuff was just unflattering, though. The real jaw-dropping moment came when the head of construction casually told the filmmakers that any workers caught wearing high-vis jackets around the campus were fired straight away to conceal the construction work going on. Relaying what he tells the poor bastards when he’s giving them the boot, he said: “It’s been a pleasure, but you have to go. Bye-bye.”

The remark would have been mildly entertaining if he were a baddie in a Bond film, but he isn’t. Such callous disregard for real people doing a real job in the real world gives the impression that construction workers are easily expendable – if one goes, no problem, someone else will take their place – but as we all know, they aren’t easily replaced. There’s a massive construction skills shortage. Surely this is the worst possible message to send at a time when the construction industry is furiously lobbying to keep our borders open and stop the worker shortage becoming even more acute when the UK leaves the EU.

It also completely detracted from the transformative work British Land has done and continues to do at Broadgate. Expect frantic attempts at damage limitation from its PRs…

Across the pond

Much as I’ve been impressed by many mixed-use schemes I’ve visited in the UK, too often, the balance isn’t right. There are definitely lessons to be learned from the US. Last week, I flew to Nashville, Tennessee, to visit friends from San Francisco and New York, before heading to Atlanta.

I was blown away by the mixed-use schemes we visited.

In Nashville, converted automobile factory Marathon Village is home to Antique Archaeology (the cult-TV show American Pickers store) as well as a host of local independent retailers, food and beverage outlets, a tattoo studio, comedy club, local distillery and Jack Daniels store. It was a hive of activity and the retention of the building’s original features and machinery only added to the appeal.

Equally impressive is Ponce City Market in Atlanta, where the historic Sears, Roebuck & Co building has been reinvented as a vibrant community hub boasting the Central Food Hall, shops, flats and offices. It was also buzzing and its location opposite a retail park featuring a Whole Foods Market and TJ Maxx appeared to be driving footfall at both schemes.

Definitely worth a visit if you’re looking for inspiration.