Plans to transform and revitalise town centres across the West Midlands have been unveiled today (Thursday, October 25).
The pioneering project from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and local councils will initially target five town centres.
These are: Bilston, St Thomas Quarter in Dudley, Bordesley Green in Birmingham, St Matthews Quarter in Walsall and West Bromwich.
Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street (Left) and Cllr Mike Bird (right) leader of Walsall Council, speak with Mark Smith, owner of the The Sweet Shop during the launch in Walsall of a regional project to help transform and revitalise town centres
High streets across the country have suffered as consumers have increasingly switched to online shopping and out of town retailing. BHS, Poundworld, Maplin, Marks and Spencer, New Look and Mothercare have announced planned closures or already closed down, leaving vacant units in key locations – a visible sign of the decline.
Only today department store Debenhams has announced annual losses of £500 million and put 50 stores at risk of closure.
The new town centre programme was agreed by the WMCA Housing and Land Delivery Board this morning. It will unlock new funding, expertise and support from the WMCA and other partners and be delivered by councils.
Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street has pledged to use his decades of experience in the retail industry – he was managing director of John Lewis before entering politics - to help revive some of the region’s town centres.
The Mayor said: “The future of the high street will not only be about shops, it will be about public services, homes, small businesses and community activities.
“There are many opportunities for our high streets. We must find a positive future for them which embraces technological change. The future of our communities depends upon it.
“Today is just the start. We want to be the region that leads the way nationally in reimagining the role and function of town centres in the digital age.
“And with a very bold housing and regeneration ambition, strong leadership and as the UK home of 5G we are well placed to do so.”
Cllr Mike Bird, WMCA portfolio lead for housing and land, said: “Many of our town centres need to re-invent themselves to meet the challenge of the 21st Century and meet the needs of our residents. The WMCA will help councils accelerate their plans to transform these centres and ensure they remain viable.”
Councils were asked to suggest town centres and high streets in need of intervention.
Five were selected as a first wave of communities where the combined resources and expertise of WMCA, local authorities and the private sector will be brought together to create new opportunities and actions.
The programme is tailored to the needs of each individual centre.
Further town centres will be eligible for a second wave of support next year, building on the experience from the first wave of centres.
A Regional Task Force is also being created to bring together experts from retail, finance, housing, universities and Government to share their knowledge and lend support to the programme.
The support for town centres is part of the WMCA’s wider commitment to focus regeneration efforts and housing delivery on existing urban areas and brownfield land.
Councils will now be drawing up specific plans for the five centres. These are:
Walsall Town Centre – St Matthews Quarter
The proposed Town Centre Masterplan being led by Walsall Council provides an opportunity to re-position the Walsall Town Centre as an accessible location that provides not only a more concentrated high quality shopping and leisure destination but also an opportunity to diversify town centre living.
The St Matthews area in particular offers ‘a blank canvas’ to transform the location into a desirable centre that offers a high quality experience. There are opportunities around shopping, living, leisure, transport, public realm and business.
Extensive housing, leisure, commercial and highways developments in and around Bilston Urban Village has seen the momentum gather in Bilston.
A pedestrian link has been created from the village to Bilston High Street and City of Wolverhampton Council feel it is the right time to make further improvements to benefit the people of the town and improve the visitor offer.
The focus is now on the town centre and the high street, with a masterplan being developed to provide the town centre with the economic boost it needs.
Bordesley Local Centre, Birmingham
Bordesley Green is an important local centre providing retail, community and educational facilities in one of the most disadvantaged areas of the city. The arrival of the proposed Metro will increase connectivity and make Bordesley Green a very accessible location at the eastern edge of the city centre.
The project will cover works designed to support the regeneration of the centre, including new and improved public spaces, footways and cycle routes, as well as wider transport and network improvements. In the long-term, there will also be opportunities to regenerate the north side of the centre, including new retail development.
Dudley Town Centre – St Thomas Quarter
The programme will focus on an area of Dudley High Street surrounding St Thomas Church
It will compliment and accelerate Dudley Council’s already ambitious plans to attract investment and boost regeneration. It will allow the council to develop ideas and plans for what more could be offered in terms of a mixture of shops, residential, leisure and more public open spaces for people to enjoy.
West Bromwich Town Centre
Building on the Sandwell Southern Triangle growth area proposals which include significant housing development.
Conversion of vacant offices and retail units into housing. Regeneration of retail areas around the town centre.