Food court on Merry Hill menu

A huge new food court is planned for the Black Country's Merry Hill Centre with its own entrance, two brand new restaurants and a massive eating area.

A huge new food court is planned for the Black Country's Merry Hill Centre with its own entrance, two brand new restaurants and a massive eating area.

Centre owner Westfield has submitted a planning application to Dudley Council for the eateries, which are believed to be planned for a site in the mall close to the Debenhams store.

Shoppers now have a choice between fast food chains such as McDonald's and Burger King, plus a sprinkling of specialist cafes that are dotted around the centre.

The ambitious plans include extending the upper mall area to create a separate entrance for the new development, flanked by two brand new restaurants on either side.

If the plans get the go-ahead the centre will have a food court again to replace the Jules Verne restaurant, which took up a major chunk of the upper level around the area where TK Maxx now is.

The restaurant had a huge balloon as its centrepiece and offered a "round the world" eating experience, with shoppers able to choose from English, Italian, Indian, American and much more.

But it closed in the early 1990s due to a lack of customers and was replaced by shops.

Westfield has also submitted a planning application to build entrance and exit barriers, road signs and external pay stations ahead of plans to introduce charges for car parking next year.

Staff look set to be spared the cost, however, with the plans including work to revamp a site in Engine Lane for them to park on.

The plans will be discussed by members of Dudley Council's planning committee in the new year.

The charges will end the free parking on offer since the centre opened in 1985.

Prices will start at 50p for the first hour, rising to £1.50 for up to three hours, £2.50 for four, £3.50 for five, with £1.50 increments for each additional hour.

Parking will remain free after 7pm, with a flat rate of £1 on Sundays.

No firm timetable has been set for the introduction of the charges, but June 2007 has been pencilled in as a start date.

By Wayne Beese