Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Birmingham conferencing - Day 1

Back in my planning job in Brisbane, I was lucky enough to be able to travel to planning and development conferences and junkets all over the country. I always found these the best way to meet other planners, and see what else was going on in my areas of specialisation and how others were dealing with the same. Ok, besides all that bullshit they are a fantastic way to catch up with others in the profession and related industries in varied and interesting places all of the country, over copious amounts of drinks, plenty of good food, while staying in flash hotels and restaurants - all on the company training budget!

Its been a long time between drinks while I've been here in the UK, but yesterday I boarded a high-speed Virgin train at London Euston, to travel up to Birmingham for 2 nights and 2 days at a National Sustainable Development conference. I'm back on the horse!!

The last time I was in Birmingham I swore I would never return, seeing nothing of value there in the time I spent driving around the suburbs one very long day in November 2004 looking for mother-in-law Jenny's old family home. But with plenty of opportunities this time around to look around the city centre and several of the major mixed use regeneration schemes that have performed amazing feats of revitalisation - I have to reluctantly admit that it is now one of my favourite cities in the UK. I'm sure I can hear Jenny laughing at this!

On the first night just after arriving and checking into our hotel, myself and two LDA Development Policy collegues ate dinner in a restuarant next the revitalised freight canals which border part of the recent Mailbox development - where a large ex-Royal Mail building has been regenerated and now forms the centerpiece of an expanding mixed-use development encompassing modern flats and serviced apartment hotels, excellent restuarants, and most major fashion brands under the one roof. An excellent piece of planning and developent which now forms the anchor to expanding medium to high density residential around it which seems to be consuming the old derelict inner city housing stock at an exciting rate - it can only be a good thing.

After a disastrous first night staying at the terrible Ibis Hotel (hereby known as the 'Abyss' Hotel), we woke this morning and after a shithouse breakfast promptly checked out, got a full refund after various points of complaint, and headed up the road to the recently opened Radisson SAS Hotel, and i'm currently sitting in an amazing room on the 14th floor overlooking the surrounding suburbs below. The hotel room has got to be one of the best standard rooms I've ever stayed in, and the rest of the hotel is very chic and modern with great attention to detail and a brilliant fit-out - if only it wasn't in Birmingham eh! It is all within a huge landmark highrise building fronted in glass, sited in an unusual location just away from the crappy Chinatown nightclub area, but it is still close enough to the convention centre and Brindley Place, and the other revitalised areas of town. And it has free Wi-Fi wireless internet for me and my PowerBook!

So far the conference itself has been quite good for content, however the presenters have been rather dull and very hit-and-miss in their addressing of topics and current issues - from what I've seen so far, I rated them anywhere between good and poor which is a bit of a shame. And there seems to be too many old crusty Councillors in cardigans milling around - it would seem that the UK development conference scene is a bit like this, inundated with those who are happy to escape their jobs for a few days and annoy those in central government agency's and the private sector with their annoying probing and often harrassing questions.

We've just returned to the hotel after a champagne-fuelled reception we held for delegates in our display booth in the exhibitors hall of the conference, where I manage to scoff down 5 glasses of the some lovely french stuff, while having some great discussions with a few planners from a number of private firms, and also several particularly annoying and almost grilling conversations with Councillors from some north London Boroughs who seemed set on analysing why the Agency isn't spending more money on regeneration in their constituency - at times I just felt like screaming at them: "like I know mate, do I look like the Mayor of London!?" Thankfully the champagne cooled heads and I was able to get myself out of there without embarrassing the Agency.

Lets see what tomorrow brings. I can't wait to see what the breakfast is at this place!!



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