Birmingham council to sell off NEC

Maldon and Burnham Standard: The NEC in Birmingham hosts events such as the Gadget Show Live The NEC in Birmingham hosts events such as the Gadget Show Live

Birmingham City Council has announced plans to sell off the company which runs the National Exhibition Centre and National Indoor Arena.

The authority said the disposal of the NEC Group, which also operates the LG Arena and the International Convention Centre, would allow all the venues to maximise future growth opportunities.

Insisting that the decision to sell off the assets was not a direct response to the council's massive equal pay liabilities, council leader Sir Albert Bore said the NEC Group had reached a point where it needed to "adopt the financial disciplines of a private, rather than a council-owned company".

Media reports have suggested that the venues may be worth at least £300 million but Sir Albert refused to give even a "ball-park" figure for how much the council hopes to raise.

Under the proposals, the LG Arena and the National Exhibition Centre, which hosts international events including the Crufts dog show, could be made available on a 100-year lease.

Some currently unused land at the NEC site will be retained by the council for future development, and the local authority says any buyer would have to share its vision for the venues.

Meanwhile, shorter leases of around 25 years would be drawn up for a sell-off of the National Indoor Arena and the International Convention Centre.

Speaking to reporters at Birmingham's Council House, Sir Albert claimed the plans would preserve and enhance the NEC Group's economic impact.

"An open sale process has been identified through an extensive strategic review process as the way to achieve full value for this internationally-renowned asset, whilst achieving the other principal objectives of enabling the group to achieve its potential," Sir Albert said.

Sir Albert conceded that the announcement was tinged with some sadness given the council's long-standing ownership of the National Exhibition Centre, which was opened by the Queen in 1976.

But he added: "I want to look forward rather than backwards.

"I think that's how we should all look at this because there is an exciting future for the NEC Group.

"A key purpose of the city council investing in establishing the NEC Group more than 30 years ago was to drive economic development and regeneration.

"This has been achieved, but now the NEC Group has reached a point in its evolution where it needs to be able to adopt the financial disciplines of a private, rather than a council-owned company to enable the next stage of strategic development."

Martin Angle, chairman of the NEC Group, said: "We look forward to working with Birmingham City Council in preparing the NEC Group for this major step forward and believe that its iconic status and portfolio of venues and businesses is likely to attract strong interest from potential buyers, from both the UK and overseas."

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