North Solihull, for far too long the poor relation of the borough, deserves the same attention as other areas of the region according to local surveyor Mike Gillespie.
Think of Solihull and the majority of Post readers will probably think of its upmarket housing in leafy suburbs, good schools and first-class shopping. There is another side, however, to the borough which would make an ideal candidate for a dedicated Urban Development Corporation to help to drive change at a quicker pace and to take a strategic overview.
North Solihull is how the Chelmsley Wood, Smiths Wood, Fordbridge and Kingshurst areas are now branded. They are increasingly coming under the eye of both politicians and Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council alike, and not before time.
Chelmsley Wood itself is part of the wider regeneration of North Solihull, a partnership between Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council, Bellway, Whitefriars and regeneration specialists Inpartnership. It has been estimated that something like £1.8 billion will be invested over the next 15 years. Plans are currently underway to carry out the largest renovation of older parts of the town since the demolition of many tower blocks in the early 1990s.
The current plans are changing the central shopping centre area, which includes the construction of a large supermarket. Both Advantage West Midlands and Fordgate should be congratulated on investing some £41 million in its redevelopment and overhaul. It seems that in addition to these works, the library and surrounding buildings are to be renovated as well, although how you renovate a concrete carbuncle still remains to be seen!
All this is positive for the borough, albeit with a large caveat.
If this investment is to be forthcoming, we must hope is that the infrastructure is going to be improved to ensure that the investment is both worthwhile and sustainable.
We all recognise that the M6, M5, M40 and M42 provide excellent communication links in and around Birmingham, as well as links to various parts of the country. What this area desperately needs is significant investment in creating links to this major arterial road network in order to open up the area and justify the long-term investment for which it has been earmarked.
Once those works have been put into place then the real opportunity to bring jobs in the form of new industry and the like will become a reality. Sceptics may say that this can never happen, but for evidence of this approach working, you only need to look at what the Black Country Development Corporation did over there, during a 10 to 15-year period and how it changed that area.
To take the Black Country example, the decision to commit to a new spine road linking the various towns and development sites so they could have quick access to the motorway network was a key factor in its success. It required the full range of planning legislation and a strategic overview that ignored some of the more petty objections to achieve this, coupled with the very large budget to do so.
Such investments do not come cheap but the danger of not committing the sums required to the infrastructure means that the entire strategic objectives never gets into a proper stride. Rates holidays, capital allowances and tax incentives should come into play to here to help create jobs.
Joined-up thinking is all well and good but we need joined-up funding as well.
Let us also not forget what Heartlands Development Corporation managed to achieve with its much more limited resources in the area around parts of Bromford.
It can be argued that more could have been done and it is certainly a view open to debate. The point here is that both of these areas have seen a lot of change over the period. There is then no reason why this cannot happen here in North Solihull as well.
All this can only be good from the property perspective as improved links to the infrastructure will bring new development opportunities. The steel girdle of the Green Belt around Birmingham and in particular in this location will at some point have to be relaxed to encourage new development to take place for industry and commerce to continue to flourish and to encourage new investment.
Wealth creation means jobs and these usually require some form of manufacturing, which means creating products that can be exported. This brings a cash injection into the economy. With interest rates at historically low levels and exchange rates so low, coupled with flexible working practices and a real ‘can-do’ attitude, there is a fantastic opportunity to see North Solihull develop its place in the Midlands economy.
Developers, planners, contractors and those of us who act as advisors should take this as a call to arms and see what we can do by influencing those in a position to make change happen, actually make change happen.
* Mike is managing partner at Gillespie & Co in Solihull.