A trip to Cramlington to meet colleagues from our Manchester office... We’re at the Badekabiner site on Bassington Industrial Estate on a 180,000sq ft insolvency instruction. While they look at disposal of the plant, I'm preparing particulars to sell the land and buildings.
My journey here has been a mix of Metro, train and Brompton bicycle so I’m welcomed to the site with a call of “nice bike, Tom” in a Mancunian accent. It is indeed, and on the way I’ve taken a look at another big factory site nearby which JLL has on the market and apparently is going for residential consent.
From Cramlington I hop on the bike and cut a couple of miles south to Brunswick Industrial Estate, where I'm advising Litton Properties on their Brunswick Park site. From Brunswick I cycle down to Gosforth Park Racecourse then pick up a bus and Metro back to the office in Newcastle city centre.
As you might guess, I've managed to borrow a folding bike from the Brompton Bicycle Company, and have also been given a free travel card and bus smart card by the transit authority Nexus and bus company Go North East. The idea is to test to what extent it’s possible to do my job car free.
Our market for industrial property in the North East has always been as much about manufacturing as distribution. Nearly all big requirements just now are from regional manufacturers needing to relocate an existing skilled workforce. Public transport is one of the first questions raised. Too often I don’t have the answers, but the plan is to correct that.
I'm heading straight to Cramlington from my home in Tynemouth. Public transport to Cramlington from there means buses, which are alarming to me. My teenage years were spent jumping on and off Routemasters in South London but I've never associated buses with getting to a meeting on time! Here, the Brompton comes in. With a bit of research earlier I’d found the point where bus routes converge on their way to Cramlington.
I hop on the Metro from Tynemouth then switch to the bike to take me out to Earsdon village. If I'm going to stand around waiting for a bus I might as well do this where there’s a nice view. Several buses are due which will get me to Cramlington on time. I take a number 19, sit back and relax. Route 19 has featured on the brochures for schemes I’ve been agent on for five years past, but this is the first time I’ve ridden it. It’s just a bus, but quite an important one if you’re trying to let property on the A19 corridor.
I use my Go North East smartcard, called The Key. I am unable to look at this without whistling the 1993 hit I’ve Got the Key by Urban Cookie Collective, revealing my age to my fellow passengers. At Cramlington I get back on the bike. A five-minute ride on one of the town’s cycleways cuts me through to Bassington Estate - bang on time, 9am. Viewing finishes five minutes before the train to Newcastle – no good if you’re walking, but plenty of time on the bike. The train gets me back to the office in 17 minutes - quicker than driving and somewhat making up for the bus ride.
Calls are coming in at the office from an electronic mailshot I've had sent out for Hawick Trading Estate. This is a small industrial estate in Newcastle owned by Commercial Estates Group, where although we've had quite a good run of lettings recently we still have some voids to fill. It’s nice to see some real results from marketing spend for a change, three viewings booked for tomorrow. Admin work for the rest of the afternoon, ordering boards, drafting particulars, start work on a marketing schedule for a meeting tomorrow. On the Brompton down to BNP’s offices on the Quayside at Newcastle to collect Hawick keys and then home.
If you’re the slightest bit passionate about UK manufacturing, which I have to be, the story of Brompton Bicycle Company has it all. Designed in a garden shed (the essential characteristic of any truly British product), Brompton now sells 33,000 bikes a year to 33 countries. Most of the components are also UK made, although these days Sturmey Archer wheel hubs come from Taiwan. Some 75% of production is exported.
In Beijing, businessmen keep a Brompton in the boot of their limo then hop out and unfold it if stuck in traffic. Now, today starts with three back-to-back viewings at Hawick Crescent, enquiries from yesterday’s e-mailshot. I get the Metro to Byker, then cycle down the Byker Link which goes right past Hawick Trading Estate. There is no better bike route than this in the UK, with nice smooth tarmac downhill all the way. I’m Hoults Yard opposite for coffee.
From Hawick Crescent it’s a mile or so along the quayside and into the office. Terms are drafted for two of the viewing firms. Despite best efforts, diary for tomorrow looks pretty empty.
A morning of tidying up heads of terms and particulars, then I cover a viewing at Saltmeadows Trade Park in Gateshead for Danny Cramman. He gives me directions to the site forgetting I’m not in the car. Keys for Saltmeadows Road are with Knight Frank on the Quayside, and the units are just across the river at Gateshead.
In the car this would involve parking on the top floor of a multi-storey car park near Knight Frank, collecting the keys then driving half a mile back in the wrong direction to one of the motor vehicle bridges into Gateshead. I can safely say the most efficient way to do industrial agency this morning is by Brompton. At Knight Frank the folded cycle sits in the secure lobby to their building while I get the keys sorted out in reception
Then over the Millennium Bridge and onto the riverside cycle route, a mix of paths and service roads. I head towards Gateshead town centre intending to catch a bus back to Newcastle . However I find myself cycling on to the High Level Bridge and back to the office. It’s easy to forget how much faster it is by bike than by bus over this sort of distance. Anything under a couple of miles seems madness to fold the bike and wait at a bus stop.
Into the office at 8am with a whole list of loose ends to tackle. I feel I’ve hopped from instruction to instruction all week, not finishing anything. The last cycle run is a lunchtime trip to my main meeting of the week. I meet my two kids Isobel and Sam off the Metro and take them for lunch before sending them up to my wife’s work in Jesmond.
Their school is shut today because teachers are training. I reflect on the week. I think I’ve successfully broken out of a mentality where for work trips car is always the default option. It’s a shame my travels this week haven’t taken me to Washington or Team Valley, but I’ll probably give public transport a go for those over the next few weeks with or without a Brompton. I’ll feel less of a fraud when answering public transport questions from potential tenants. Really difficult journeys to the fringes of our area didn’t crop up. I’d dreaded any call involving an hour’s bus journey.
That didn’t happen. Even Cramlington’s once an hour rail service was fine; you can use it for one leg of the journey, with the slower but more frequent buses covering the other. Occupational agency work is a fair barometer of economic activity, and for this week at least economic activity has been confined to those industrial areas where public transport is pretty good.
I’ve always been sceptical about regeneration schemes that don’t involve dramatic improvements to public transport. Now I’m confirmed in this view. Should firms run out and buy a fleet of blue and orange Bromptons? Well if there was ever an urge to invest in pool bikes then the Brompton Bicycle looks a good candidate. Surprise of the week was that my trips to Byker, Gateshead and within Cramlington all involved good quality, traffic free cycleways.
I’d pictured myself buzzed by HGVs as I spin along dual carriageways. It wasn’t like that. Signage to and from public transport hubs was non-existent. But by using online mapping I’d found easy routes bearing no relation to how you’d travel by car. Reaction from those I met during the week was uniformly positive. Tyneside isn’t Cambridge, but attitudes and the culture are changing. Many weren’t aware I’d used a bike. In these austere times people value economy and efficiency.
As Bob Dylan said: “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” I’m not looking to influence anyone else’s behaviour. Companies are, however, upping the ‘anti’ on sustainability and corporate social responsibility. I found my car free week both enjoyable and worthwhile. n