Locals are becoming frustrated at what they claim is the lack of work on a project that was set to turn Dudley into the “Eden Project” of the Black Country.
More than a year ago, developers St Modwen got the formal go ahead to start on an ambitious scheme to rejuvenate Dudley as a high profile regional tourist attraction.
Regional development agency Advantage West Midlands said it would pump more than £5 million into the Castle Hill scheme, which would link up tourist sites like the Zoological Gardens and the Black Country Living Museum.
But Ian Walden, the director of the Black Country Living Museum, said people were starting to get angry at the lack of development, and what they describe as the lack of communication from the developers and local authorities for more than eight years.
Mr Walden said: “It’s just totally frustrating. How can we take Dudley seriously when we can’t even get this development done.
“There was an agreement that the zoo land would be released to St Modwen, but nothing has happened. And we – along with other people involved – just want to know what has been done.
“It’s just not being developed and the council are missing such an opportunity to put the area properly on the map.
“This development is hugely important for two reasons.
“Firstly, when we’d get the developments there is a potential for thousands of jobs to come out of it. Secondly, with the way things are, people can look at Dudley and say ‘nothing happens there’.”
The planned redevelopment of the Castle Hill site is due to include:
A redevelopment of Dudley Zoo and Castle to include a tropical dome, Asiatic forest, two aquatic facilities and walkthrough aviaries.
Heritage shops, restaurants and a garden centre built on the 60 acres of land released at the base of Castle Hill on the site of the former rail depot.
A new natural history, science-based attraction created, called ‘Origins’.
Land released for a new development of homes and apartments, creche and leisure facilities, bars and restaurants.
New car parking, an additional Metro stop, and an internal miniature railway connecting the Zoo and Origins sites to the hugely popular Black Country Living Museum and Dudley Canal Trust attractions.
The project is managed by Castle Hill Dudley, a joint venture company between St Modwen and Dudley Council.
Land worth around £20 million was released by Dudley Zoological Gardens.
Peter Suddock, the chief executive of Dudley Zoological Gardens, said he could appreciate the frustration at the slowness of the work, but said the number of bodies involved and the legislation surrounding work by charities meant the work would take time.
He said he hoped to see movement by the end of July.
A spokesman for Dudley Council said the position of the site meant the development had been extremely complicated.
He said: “Dudley Council is as eager as everyone else involved in this ambitious scheme to see it take shape.
“It has been and is a very sensitive site not least because the proposed land for development stands at the foot of an ancient monument. As a result there’s a great deal of detailed work to be done.
“However, we are hopeful that in the coming months we will be in a position to make more announcements about its development.”
And John Dodds, the regional director of St Modwen, also said the development was still on track. “We are working hard to deliver the garden centre later this year,” he said.
“We are currently working on funding with AWM and we are working closely with the zoo to deliver the zoo plan.”