Strutt & Parker is one of the key sponsors at this year’s Oxford Property Festival

Q1 2019

Bhavash Vashi to chair debate: ‘How Oxfordshire is driving the world automobile industry’

Strutt & Parker is once again a key sponsor of the Oxfordshire Property Festival to be held on the 11th April 2019 at Keble College, Oxford, drawing together the very best of the regional property sector into one day of celebration: walks, talks, awards, and music. The programme is tailored to enable key spokespeople to debate and discuss major issues affecting the Oxfordshire property market, as well as celebrate its achievements.

This year, Bhavash Vashi, Senior Associate Director at Strutt & Parker's Planning team in Oxford, is chairing a key debate: How Oxfordshire is driving the world automobile industry. The debate will be the fourth session of the day, with speaker Dr Christopher Aylett, Chief Executive of the Motorsport Industry Association, and panellists’ Dr Caroline Livingstone, Head of Property at EMEA Culham Science Centre; Jolyon Price, Partner at Ridge & Partners; Richard Byard, Business Development Director at OxLEP; and Jonty Ashworth, Property Development Manager at Bicester Heritage.

The automobile industry has become one of the most powerful drivers for growth across the Oxfordshire region. Bhavash is keen to look into what the industry must do to maintain its world class position in terms of future investments. As a self-confessed petrol head himself, this discussion is particularly pertinent.

“I was delighted to find out that I would be chairing the ‘Top Gear’ session at this Year’s Oxford Property Festival having also being involved in the 2018 inaugural event. There is clear consensus that the UK automotive industry is going through a period of rapid change. But is the car industry now going into reverse?”

“The BMW Mini plant based in Cowley produces around 1,000 vehicles every single day and employs thousands of employees. The car plant is a huge source of pride for Oxford. But there are dark clouds ahead especially with recent announcements by Honda to close its Swindon plant in 2022 and return manufacturing to Japan, with the loss of over 3,500 jobs, and Jaguar Land Rover announcing it would shed some 4,500 jobs, most of them in the UK. Added to this, is Nissan’s decision not to manufacture the X-Trail SUV in Sunderland and Toyota suggesting its manufacturing hub in Derby could move to mainland Europe if a no-deal Brexit does materialise.”

“When the auto sector shrank in Detroit in the 1990s and early 2000s, an entire city was hollowed out. This is not to say that the same could happen in the UK as automotive manufacturing is not as geographically concentrated as in the U.S., but nonetheless, the changes it is going through will have a profound effect on regional property markets, including Oxford.”

“Some commentators see this round of news as a temporary cyclical slowdown, but others (me included) see major structural change given the falling industrial take-up numbers mainly as a result of declining car output, customer demand and changes in vehicle technology.”

Technological advances including driverless cars, changing ownership patterns and competition for manufacturing space from other countries, means Oxfordshire PLC needs to deploy innovative ways to attract and retain highly skilled staff and maintain a ready supply of the right type of manufacturing and innovation space in order to stay ahead of the chasing pack.

“It’s not all doom and gloom,” continues Bhavash. “There are reasons to be optimistic too. Not least because of the growth in research and innovation in motion technology, including electric vehicles and the associated development of battery technology, is something we do well here in the UK. There is no reason why we cannot support and accelerate this highly-skilled sector by developing the right type of industrial and manufacturing floorspace in the right locations, but all players including developers and local authorities need to recognise their responsibilities and act in a co-ordinated manner. Inevitably, this may result in the need for less land, but in my view nowhere near the losses that were witnessed in the US.”

How the property industry adjusts to these changing demands will be key to ensuring the continued success of Oxford’s car industry over the coming decades.

To attend this year’s Oxford Property Festival, please visit