The Government has been urged to make it easier for the Birmingham-Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership to get its hands on a significant proportion of the £180 million land bank built up by regional development agency Advantage West Midlands.
Birmingham City Council leader, Mike Whitby, has written to Business Secretary Vince Cable asking him to find ways to ease the financial burden on the LEP and local councils of buying a number of AWM’s valuable regeneration sites.
Dr Cable announced a week ago that local authorities would have to pay market prices if they wanted to obtain RDA land.
He added that land in the ownership of AWM, which is being abolished, would have to offer sites to the highest bidder.
The decision raised the likelihood that land ripe for redevelopment will be snapped up by private sector firms at rock bottom prices.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills rejected calls to let cash-strapped local councils buy sites now but to pay for them in the future, when they have the money.
Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) told a meeting of the full city council that he hoped arrangements could be put in place which would allow the Birmingham-Solihull LEP to spread the cost of buying AWM land.
He added: “We have let the Government know that we still think it would be sensible if we were given an opportunity to acquire these interests.”
One possibility is that the LEP could use Tax Incremental Funding, enabling it to borrow money to purchase the land and repay loans through the additional business rates generated by firms moving into the area.
Sites up for grabs include 7.5 acres surrounding Edgbaston cricket ground, which is currently used for car parking and as a practice area, and 57 acres of the former MG Rover car plant at Longbridge, on four sites known as North Works, North Works Car Park, Old West Works and South Works.
AWM also owns an 8.9 acre site at Edgbaston which was once occupied by the BBC’s Pebble Mill studios and has been earmarked for a science park.
Coun Whitby rejected a suggestion by the council’s opposition Labour leader, Sir Albert Bore, that a cross-party letter should be sent asking Dr Cable to change his mind.
Coun Whitby added: “We have already written to the Government and I am in regular contact with various ministers.
“I think the coalition Government is treating us fairly. We are making the case and we feel they are listening.”
Sir Albert (Lab Ladywood) said: “The Government has blocked RDA advice that sites should be transferred to local authorities.
“At a time when unemployment is rising and growth is being downgraded, I believe the Government should supporting local authorities and LEPs by helping them create private sector jobs and investment for the future and should not be holding them back.”