Birmingham's council leader has admitted he despaired of a key city development ever getting started after it stalled for 13 years.
Work has finally started on the 30-acre site of the former Battery Park site in Selly Oak.
But Sir Albert Bore revealed he feared the regeneration was never going to happen at the key location which has been home to an iron foundry, a gas works and a tip for commercial and domestic waste.
Visiting the site, Sir Albert said: “I have been concerned about the Battery Park site for many years and there were times when I thought it wasn’t going to happen. Now we are on site and see work taking place.”
The work taking place is part of an 82-week programme to decontaminate and level the site, before building can begin.
Once those works are complete in early 2016, the site will be ready for the construction of a retail-led development as well as Birmingham’s new Life Sciences Campus, which aims to be a centre of excellence for life sciences research.
The Harvest Partnership, a joint venture between Land Securities and Sainsbury’s, will deliver the retail element, which will be anchored by a new supermarket, as well as other shops, student housing, restaurants and bars.
Meanwhile archaeological works are also taking place to learn more about the site’s industrial past.
Tunnels and remnants of former buildings that have long since been buried can be glimpsed and visitors can even catch an unmistakable whiff of chemicals from the site’s industrial past.
Sir Albert agreed there could be no doubting the scale of the job in hand.
“It is actually amazing, but an even bigger job than I thought it would be,” he said. “The change in levels is dramatic. What we see shows this site was a hub of economic activity for a long period but also used for some 20 years for dumping – not just industrial waste, but household refuse.
“What will come of it is tremendous and makes it all worthwhile.”
The scheme has seen numerous setbacks and attracted controversy, with the final retail scheme smaller than the original plan, making space for the Life Sciences Campus.
Sir Albert said despite the difficulties, the fact the scheme was now moving forward was to be welcomed.
“Sainsbury’s and the Harvest Partnership have worked very hard to try to get that understanding with the local community and I think things have worked out to the good from the perspective of all sides,” he said.
“There are community facilities, retail on site and for the city council we are getting the Life Sciences Campus, which will mean new jobs in a new medical sector for Birmingham.
“We will see companies growing in that area of medical technology. This will be a natural home for them as they grow and an extremely important zone and one which will open up opportunities for years to come.”
The decontamination on-site is being carried out by the Carey Group. Materials manager John Heaps said soil was tested for contaminants and a special ‘soil hospital’ had been created to treat it before it and rubble were re-used.
“The only thing being taken off site is the rubbish fraction within the tip – plastics, rags etc,” he said.
“We are taking that to our sister company, which provides refuse-derived fuel, and it will go to power stations. Nothing goes to landfill.”