Birmingham Chamber boss Jerry Blackett has called for the vital land banks owned by Advantage West Midlands to be handed over to the Local Enterprise Partnerships that will be set up soon.
And he said the willingness to hand over control of sites like Longbridge, Ansty Park in Coventry and the i54 park in Wolverhampton would be “a serious test of this Government’s commitment to localism”.
AWM, the regional development agency set to be wound up by March 2012, currently owns stakes in a huge number of key sites across the region, with the value of its holdings estimated at between £100 million and £200 million.
The agency had the investment in the land because of its remit to work on regeneration in the region. But regeneration is one of the roles set to be taken away from the regions by the Government when the RDAs are replaced by the new Local Enterprise Partnerships.
The future of LEPs in the West Midlands is still uncertain, with business groups, local authorities and the private sector unable to reach a conclusion on where to draw the boundaries separating the business support groups.
But Mr Blackett – one of the key voices in the debate over the future of LEPs in the region – said giving them access to the assets previously owned by AWM would give LEPs access to more funding, as well as keeping regeneration moving in the Midlands.
He said: “I don’t think we need to go back to the old ways of Whitehall controlling everything. This is a serious test of this Government’s commitment to localism.
“I think the prize for us is to convince the Government quickly that we need to keep AWM’s assets to continue our regeneration work. And I think if we make the case loud enough then the Government will listen.
“But if we don’t make it intelligently enough they won’t listen, and if we’re not careful they will just start selling it.”
He said the central funding earmarked for LEPs would not even come near to matching the funds AWM had for business support, so taking on some of the capital assets of the old agency would help the balance sheet at the new partnerships.
“Frankly there is no money around, so if they don’t give us the residual AWM assets there’s not going to be much left,” he said.
He said the Government needed to cede some control of regeneration to the regions, adding the LEPs would be able to work more efficiently on a local level than the Government, especially if the groups collaborated with each other.
“I think there is no reason this should not work,” he said. “There’s no better way of getting the job done than the LEPs taking the local assets, because they are often being used to match funding from the private sector. The private sector wants to know what the LEPs will be doing.
“But we may need more than one LEP to come together to work as a team on this. In this rush for localism we must not delude ourselves that we can do everything on our own. We may not need to form any official regional body but we will need to come together across a number of LEPs.”
AWM is set to be wound up by 2012 after 13 years in operation, but it is still involved in dealing with the future of the premises it runs. Just a few weeks ago, it was involved in the decision to hand over a site in Eastside to Birmingham City University for its new campus building.
The plot next to Millennium Point, which for years had been earmarked for a Vertical Theme Park development, was given to BCU after the university was turfed out of another nearby site to make way for the arrival of High-Speed Rail in Birmingham.