Pebble Mill plot

Circle set to square the Pebble Mill concept

Birmingham’s next landmark healthcare scheme is almost complete, as BQ hears from Calthorpe Estates’ director
of development, Ralph Minott.

‘Location, location, location’ has been the mantra of estate agents for decades, but in healthcare, co-location is the secret of strategic success. Pebble Mill is still better known to the wider world as the home of the BBC’s Birmingham studios, but observers of the health sector, and commuters who use the adjacent Bristol Road highway, realise that something special is being created there.

Already, the 27-acre site owned by Calthorpe Estates houses the new £50m Dental Hospital and School of Dentistry, which occupies some 170,000 sq ft of space, and a 62-bed private care home operated by Bupa is currently being built.

The former - the first such project to be delivered in the UK for almost 40 years - opened in April 2016, and will provide learning and research facilities to more than 600 students a year.

Construction of a private hospital for Circle Health is now underway, and further details about that project are expected to be revealed before summer 2017.

The site’s remaining plot has a proposed 53,800 sq ft medical hub building, floors available of 13,000 sq ft GIA with full medical use approval. All told, Pebble Mill represents a development value of some £200m.

Minott“Yes, it is a major project, and it’s certainly been a long-term project, but I think people really began to understand our vision for the Pebble Mill site, after the opening of the dental hospital and school,” says Calthorpe’s Minott. “We invested more than £3.5m here, just on infrastructure, but it’s worth it, because it’s a genuine landmark location, so everything has to be just right.

“We spent significant sums in creating public realm and landscaping in keeping with the site’s healthcare uses, allowing the two brooks which have always run across the site to form a ‘green’ corridor and then meet in the tranquillity garden, created for the Pebble Mill workforce and students, local community and visitors to the site to enjoy.

“I suspect there’ve been moments, since we acquired the site, that some people thought we weren’t sure what to do with it, but we’ve always been prepared to take our time.”

The spread of healthcare uses at Pebble Mill testifies to its appeal, especially to a sector which has the resources and the ambition to be effectively footloose.

Minott believes a key reason that the location proved so attractive was because tenants bought into Calthorpe’s strategic vision. “We’ve always said that we wanted to make Pebble Mill a world-class destination for healthcare and medical sciences, and have never deviated from our original intent. It has been and is a significant investment for a family-owned property and development business such as Calthorpe.”

However, he readily accepts that its co-location with other major elements of Birmingham’s healthcare and life sciences community was also a powerful influence. “For sure, the site is ideally placed for anyone wishing to engage with, work with, or simply visit the rest of the city’s healthcare cluster, and we’re just a few minutes walk away from the University of Birmingham and the Queen Elizabeth (QE) Hospital site.

“When you work in the same city as the QE, you become so familiar with its presence that you don’t think of its international reputation, but it has the largest solid organ transplantation programme in Europe, the UK’s largest renal transport programme and the world’s largest single-floor critical care unit.

“Pebble Mill is also close to the proposed Birmingham Life Sciences Campus, where the University of Birmingham and its stakeholders will deliver something like 400,000 sq ft of new space for healthcare and life sciences uses.”

The final development phase at Pebble Mill will be to bring forward almost 54,000 sq ft of new space, and Minott says several uses are being considered by Calthorpe and its agents. “It’s often said that Birmingham lacks office space with large floor-plates, but at Building 4 we will be doing just that for medical use, offering complete open plan flexibility to operators within 13,000 sqf floor plates on a single floor, plus parking for 150 vehicles. The floor-to-ceiling distance has also been pitched relatively high, so the space will be flooded by natural light.

“The beauty of being such a long established family-controlled developer and investor is the ability to make fully considered views, so we aim to ensure we strive for the best long term deal for this final plot. It might go to a single tenant, or be taken as individual floors.

“When we first began working with Birmingham City Council and the regional development agency, Advantage West Midlands, we shared a vision of what this site could become and I am sure it’s almost as pleasing for all our partners as ourselves, to be on the cusp of completing our delivery of that vision.”

Minott also believes that Calthorpe’s strategic vision for Pebble Mill, and for the wider Edgbaston Medical Quarter (EMQ), is now understood at an international level; by potential investors, tenants and members of the healthcare and life sciences community.

“Arab Health the Middle East’s largest medical congress and exhibition, is a good example of this. it’s held annually in Dubai, and this February, we attended for the third time. We were establishing, and then raising, our profile in 2015 and 2016, but this time, we exhibited in the UK Pavillion opposite the Association of British Healthcare Industries’ stand.

“The amount of interest we had in Pebble Mill and EMQ was very pleasing. By the end of the event, we’d had eight or nine serious inquiries, mostly about primary care centres, but also about physiotherapy and cancer-related treatments.

“These are early-stage inquiries, of course, but I thin k to attract so much detailed interest, when there were around 4,000 exhibitors at Arab Health, shows what a strong and very positive brand that Calthorpe, and Birmingham’s healthcare and life sciences community, have been able to build on a global stage.”

Calthorpe Estates, 76 Hagley Road, Edgbaston Birmingham B16 8LU
+44(0)121 2487676