WMCA investment will unlock former school site for 175 new homes

The site of a former secondary school in north Solihull is to be transformed into a new community of up to 175 homes thanks to a £3m investment by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and delivery by Solihull Council. 

The deal between the parties paves the way for the infrastructure and enabling works needed for the scheme on land that was once home to Simon Digby School in Chelmsley Wood. 

Despite the pandemic, the WMCA has continued to make a series of multi-million-pound investments to provide market confidence and put in place the building blocks required to drive the region’s post-Covid-19 economic recovery plans.

Without this critical WMCA investment, using housing and land funds secured from Government, the Simon Digby scheme could not have proceeded.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, said: “This investment is another great example of the commitment of the WMCA, alongside Solihull Council, to continue delivering new homes and jobs for local people during these challenging times.

“Before coronavirus struck, the West Midlands economy was growing fast, living standards were improving, and there was a rapid expansion in house building. The pandemic has hit us hard, but Simon Digby is just one of many schemes we are backing as part of our wider plans to get our economy back on track and regain our previous momentum.

“Not only does this scheme provide much-needed homes and jobs, but it also helps protect precious greenbelt land, something that I know is critically important to the residents of Solihull.”

The Simon Digby scheme aims to see around 40% of the new homes classed affordable under the WMCA’s unique definition of affordability, which is linked to real world local wages rather than property prices.

This is a direct result of WMCA funding clauses which require all developers receiving WMCA investment to include at least 20% affordable homes in their schemes. The affordable housing percentage is also in line with planning policy for the area.

Today’s £3m investment is a further significant boost for the delivery of the Simon Digby scheme and will be used to bring forward the majority of the site infrastructure including a new access road from the Chester Road (A452) and acoustic mitigation measures.

The development, which will be well connected to nearby Chelmsley Wood Town Centre and the future HS2 Interchange Station, is also an important part of Solihull Council’s Local Plan and follows significant feasibility work in connection with the site and design work. It is also part of the council’s UK Central Solihull programme, which supports sustainable and inclusive growth across the borough. 

Cllr Ian Courts, Leader of Solihull Council and WMCA portfolio holder for environment and energy, HS2, said: “The vital funding we have secured from the WMCA will help us unlock the potential this development site offers. There is further design and planning work to be done, but the potential to provide around 175 much needed new homes, many of which will be affordable, is a great opportunity for us. I’d like to thank Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, for supporting us throughout this project.

“One of the key aims of the UK Central programme is to support inclusive and sustainable growth. This area of north Solihull has potential to benefit from the significant development proposed at the adjacent UK Central Hub especially the economic benefits associated with the arrival of the HS2 Interchange.

“Building on the nearby Kingshurst Village Centre Regeneration, we’re committed to creating high quality residential areas that promote a real sense of community.”

Cllr Mike Bird, WMCA portfolio holder for housing and land and leader of Walsall Council, added: “The West Midlands is being increasingly recognised as a national leader in the regeneration of urban land for new homes, communities and businesses and despite the challenges thrown up by the pandemic we have kept on investing in these transformative projects.

“Indeed, since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak we have secured even more cash from Government for the regeneration of sites like Simon Digby as well as many derelict industrial sites in other parts of the region. The regeneration of these sites will play a critical role in the region’s economic recovery and help guarantee work for local firms while creating new jobs and homes for local people.”

An outline planning application and outline business case are due to be submitted later this year. Previously secured funding from the WMCA is being utilised to bring these elements forward.  

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