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Sutton Coldfield 'could rival Solihull as premier shopping destination'

High hopes for regeneration of town centre after city council buys Red Rose shopping centre and looks to a new future akin to Solihull's Touchwood centre

A new future awaits the Red Rose centre in Sutton Coldfield

Sutton Coldfield town centre has a golden opportunity to reinvent itself as a rival retail destination to Solihull following a council deal for a run-down shopping centre.

Local politicians said the historic deal to buy the Red Rose shopping centre could see a transformation into something like Solihull's Touchwood shopping centre.

Birmingham City Council is to buy the dated Red Rose, built in 1974, for an undisclosed price.

The deal means that, if leases can be renegotiated and other land deals done, the site to the north of Sutton Coldfield's main parade could become the centre of a major regeneration scheme.

Anne Underwood, chairman of the Sutton Coldfield district committee, said: "This has been a block on town centre regeneration for some time.

"We could have had something similar to Touchwood at Solihull but the difference there was the council owned the land.

"This site could be a lever to get some more land in that area and give us an opportunity to do something."

She said it was currently a time of great political change in Sutton Coldfield with the new devolved town council being set up and plans being developed to restore the historic Sutton Coldfield Town Hall.

Solihull's Touchwood, which opened in 2001 with a John Lewis store, has transformed retail in Solihull and is continuing to grow and expand.

Meanwhile, Sutton Coldfield town centre, which underwent a modest regeneration in the mid-1990s, has struggled to develop.

Successive plans for Brassington Avenue have stalled, never getting off the drawing board.

In 2009, the city council drew up a regeneration framework for the town centre designed to increase the retail space, create new civic buildings and a public square in the Red Rose shopping centre area.

But this never progressed due to the economic downturn and the council austerity cuts.

Plans to re-route the heavily congested ring road, which acts as a constraint on growth, have also been shelved.

Sutton Coldfield Conservatives have now re-launched the town's economic development committee under the chairmanship of Coun Ewan Mackey (Con Sutton Trinity) to seek ways to capitalise on the deal.

He said: "This purchase will give the council the opportunity to enable the regeneration of the town centre which is long overdue. Royal Sutton Coldfield could gain the modern, high-quality town centre it deserves.

"Once redeveloped, Sutton Coldfield would be better placed to compete commercially with other neighbouring towns.

"One only needs to look at Grand Central created from the redevelopment of New Street station in Birmingham to see what can be achieved."

Birmingham City Council bought the dated Pallasades shopping centre for £91 million in 2009 and, following its redevelopment alongside the regeneration of New Street station, sold the new Grand Central Shopping Centre for £335 million last week.

But the council will already be making savings through the purchase as both Sutton Coldfield Library and the council-run, multi-storey car park are on very expensive and restrictive long-term leases - which a council report described as "onerous".

It is estimated that, by 2020, a revamp of the library building to relocate and incorporate more services could save the council £10 million a year.

In 2010, during IT installation work at the library, asbestos was discovered, leading to its immediate closure.

The city council found itself responsible for the £1.8 million decontamination work and unable to extricate itself from a 99-year lease signed in 1974.

The building was repaired and reopened two years later.

There is also much criticism of the state of the multi-storey car park, which the council operates under a lease, with its dirty crumbling concrete, frequently broken lifts and dingy walkways.



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