Birmingham’s Labour Party has pledged to ditch plans for a High Speed Rail maintenance depot at Washwood Heath if it takes control of the city council in May.
In a wide-ranging economic policy manifesto, launched for the run-up to the May 3 local election, Labour leader Sir Albert Bore says he will instead regenerate the former LDV and Alstom sites for the low carbon motor industry, building on the success of Jaguar Land Rover.
The site has been earmarked for an HS2 depot, but with the line not set to open until 2026 there is a chance it could be blighted for almost 15 years.
Sir Albert said: “We could take forward the development of the site as early as spring next year, assuming planning permission and deliver 6,000 jobs over the next few years.”
He said that they have spoken with the landowners and HS2 company about the options and are optimistic another depot site could be found.
The manifesto, drawn up by senior councillors and Labour MPs Jack Dromey and Liam Byrne in consultation with businesses, has put job creation at its centre – even though the council is facing the largest local government cuts in history.
Sir Albert said: “The issue of jobs is at the forefront. In Hodge Hill and Ladywood we have the highest unemployment in the country. We have to see an increase in employment and a reduction in poverty. Patterns of deprivation are no better than they were ten years ago.”
Further initiatives will build on existing successes such as JLR and Microsoft to develop Birmingham as a hub for advanced motor manufacturing and low carbon engineering, a digital and creative district around Digbeth and a life science and medical technology campus around the QE Hospital and University of Birmingham.
There will also be investment in women’s enterprise and ‘a one stop shop’ created for small enterprises to gain access to the council’s equity and loan funds.
The Birmingham Labour Party has drawn up its most detailed manifesto in a decade as, with just four seats needed, it is widely expected to take control of the Council House on May 3 after eight years of Tory-Lib Dem Coalition rule.
Sir Albert said: “This is about a change of direction, new ways of doing things. Key to this is engaging with other players in business. Birmingham was traditionally the city of a thousand trades. Now we have to be Britain’s Enterprise Capital.”
Admitting that the council is now operating under extreme financial pressure, he said that it is in the interests of all Birmingham political parties to lobby for a better deal from Government – especially as the Labour Group suspects there will be a massive budget “black hole” after May.
He said: “That is going to create a big budget problem for us. They are borrowing from reserves, not been clear about where the cuts are going to come from and postponed decisions, such as the home to school transport changes, until after the local election.
“For two years running the Coalition Government has not given Birmingham our fair share of funding. They have taken the equivalent of £164 from every person, compared to less than £20 per person in Wokingham.”
He said that the figures, taken from research by Newcastle City Council, should encourage Birmingham MPs of all political parties to join forces and lobby for a better deal.
As a rallying call it is a more impressive election pledge than his budget statement last month in which he said that the Tory Lib-Dem council had missed a trick in not raising council tax in line with inflation six or seven years ago.
A second section of the Labour manifesto, also released this week, talks about a major restructuring of local services, with constituency committees being given greater responsibilities and their chairmen and women a seat, as executive members, at the Cabinet table for relevant decisions.
Among areas being devolved are housing management, youth services, community and play services, community libraries, community safety, sport and leisure services, refuse collection and street cleaning, highways services and environmental wardens.
Sir Albert said that this will build on the work he started to devolve responsibilities when last the leader of the council in 2003/4: “This is about the transfer of powers, responsibilities and crucially budgets.”
He added that as this is Labour Party policy, developed with the MPs, it should be the ‘starting point’ for a Labour elected mayor manifesto, should the city vote to have one in May.
“The elected mayor should be focused on strategic issues. If he or she wants to run the city effectively then he will need the councillors and should be pleased to have them taking responsibility for local services,” he added.