New homes, new factories and new colleges are just part of a £211 million plan that is changing the face of the Black Country.
Expanding Junction 10 of the M6 and remodelling Wolverhampton’s Civic Halls are two of the projects that have been kick-started with Government money pumped into the region through the Black Country Growth Deal.
Among the targets set for 2021 are another 1,400 homes in the Black Country, up to 5,000 new jobs and hundreds of training places for young people.
Since the initial deal was won in 2014, the Black Country was been awarded another two slices of Government cash for its Growth Deal projects.
The scheme is being overseen by the Black Country Local Enterprise Partnership, the group made up of local authority chiefs and business leaders and given the job of increasing investment and jobs in the area.
LEP chairman Stewart Towe, head of Smethwick engineers Hadley Group, says the Black Country has continued to attract Government funding because of its success in putting the money to work and getting results.
And he says the business experience on the LEP’s board has been crucial to the success so far.
“The Black Country had a history of not meeting spending targets or deadlines. We have turned that around, showing that we can meet deadlines, meet those targets; we have proved we can do it. We have built a reputation with Whitehall that we can deliver.
“Business experience with project management, meeting spending and deadline targets, has been key to that. At the same time there is a willingness to work together, with all four council leaders on board. We are all pulling in the same direction.
“That’s not to say our board meetings can’t get interesting, but generally they are very positive. If there is an issue with any particular project everyone will try to help.
“As a result we have achieved our targets on spending and we have been able to ensure things happen on time, which gives us credibility when it comes to seeking more funding for new projects.”
The Black Country secured the Growth Deal money in the first place with a comprehensive submission that detailed the cost of every project, the amount the deal would contribute, how much private sector money that would generate, how long the project would take and what the outcome would be in terms of either new jobs, new homes, transport improvements or new training and apprenticeship places.
Every year the LEP has to report back on its progress so far on each and every scheme it is backing. Its success in keeping on target, on time and on budget has seen it build the initial £138m funding to more than £210m, as Government confidence grows in the Black Country’s ability to deliver.
Over the timescale to 2021 around £30m of Growth Deal money is being spent every year. Across the Black Country a string of projects have either been finished or are now close to completion, such as the new Science, Technology and Prototyping Centre on the University of Wolverhampton Science Park, or the Dudley College Advance centres, the extension to Pensnett business estate and improvements to Kings Street Parade in Dudley.
More than 90 per cent of the planned work on resurfacing roads or building new ones to open up development sites has already been completed. Around 13 kilometres of roads have been resurfaced and five kilometres of new roads laid. As a result, building work has started on more than 400 homes on the Goscote Lane Corridor site in Walsall, while factory buildings are being cleared away at the Woods Lane site in Cradley Heath ready for another 350 homes. And a developer has just been secured for the next phase of housing for the Bilston Urban Village.
Across the four boroughs of Walsall, Dudley, Sandwell and Wolverhampton the Growth Deal has paid for millions of pounds of site improvement work, enabling acres of brownfield land to come back into use for housing or new factories.
The derelict former Springfield Brewery in Wolverhampton is being transformed into a university School of Architecture and Built Environment as well as a construction university technical college. In the three years since the Growth Deal was secured, a string of new projects have been added to the list.
A feasibility study has been carried out for a hi-tech very light railway centre in Dudley while it will also aid in the expansion of Wolverhampton City College.
And earlier this year the Black Country secured £53 million from the West Midlands Combined Authority to revamp former industrial sites. The cash will be used over the next four years to deliver 1,600 new houses and 126,000 sq m of new commercial floor space across the region. It is also expected to create 1,800 new jobs. Dozens of brownfield sites will be decontaminated and brought back into use as part of the Land & Property Investment Fund scheme.
As the money frees up more land for development and housing it leads to additional investment of £97m.
LEP board member Ninder Johal said at the time: “The Black Country has been blighted by a huge number of brownfield sites, many of which have been left alone due to issues with contamination. This funding will allow us to bring these sites back into use and as a result attract inward investment to the region.”
Another key to the success of the Growth Deal schemes has been the ability of the LEP and the local councils to secure private sector funding, often from housing companies and property investors, to cover the majority of the expense.
So in Wolverhampton the £131 million Canalside housing development scheme has secured more than 60 per cent backing from the private sector and the University of Wolverhampton.
Sarah Middleton, chief executive of the Black Country Consortium – the small team of professionals who back up the work of the LEP – says the aim is to secure £3 of private investment for every £1 from the Growth Deal; “We’re on target with that at the moment,” she said.
Meanwhile the LEP with its Growth Deal is playing a major role in the expansion of the Midland Metro tram system, out towards Dudley and Merry Hill, while another new project will see improvements to traffic flow around the Birchley Island.
One of the newest schemes that will benefit from the Land & Property Investment Fund will be the new £48 million Music Institute to be built next year at Cable Plaza in Brierley Hill. As well as music courses it will offer degrees in performance, production and management with places for 600 students.
But these schemes, extensive as they may seem, are just the tip of the iceberg.
Over the five years to 2021 the LEP and four councils are predicting almost £2 billion of investment, in transport, new factories, better skills and new homes.
It’s been a long time coming, but it will change the face of the Black Country forever.
Written by Simon Penfold - Business Editor of the Express and Star.