Express & Star

Wolverhampton Business Week: City with its 'foot on the gas'

Wolverhampton 'has its foot on the gas' as a string of major development schemes bring the promise of growth and regeneration to the city.

The Westside leisure redevelopment will transform Wolverhampton city centre

As the city marks the start of its Business Week, council economy chief John Reynolds has hailed the progress being made on projects that will change the face of the city.

"We were slow to start, but have been accelerating and we have our foot on the gas at the moment."

And business leaders are backing the city's progress as figures show a 40 per cent surge in new companies formed in Wolverhampton in 2016, with nearly 2,700 startups in the city.

David Danger, managing director at the city's HS Marston Aerospace factory, said: "I agree with John, we are starting to make some faster progress."

His plant, a 'centre of excellence' for giant US parent company UTC, is recruiting more staff as the aircraft programmes it works on ramp up production. It also provides work for a string of supplier companies in the area.

"We are seeing more success. Jaguar Land Rover is the most obvious but we have investment in the city centre, unemployment is falling and and progress is being made with the number of apprenticeships now available in the city."

Chairman of the city's employment & skills group, Mr Danger said the Wolves at Work scheme, bringing together the city council and Department of Work and Pensions, was now working with 1,400 local people, helping them back into work. "We are getting some real traction now," he said.

Creating new jobs and business opportunities underpins the council's Business Week programme, aimed at supporting existing companies and attracting new firms and new investment to the city.

Wolverhampton Business Week events run until Friday

Despite concerns raised over higher than expected bills for projects such as Wolverhampton's new railway station at a time of ever-tightening local authority budgets, Councillor Reynolds reaffirmed the council's commitment to build 'for the future'.

He said recent successes were down to the council's 'more co-ordinated' approach to development over the last 10 years, and a 'culture change' in relations between councillors, officers and the private sector. "At the moment in Wolverhampton we are really driving forwards by working together," said Mr Reynolds.

"We have to make sure that what we do benefits the people and businesses in the city.

"People are going to see the difference over the next 12 months in Wolverhampton as more building work starts, and for the next three or four years."

And the council's strategic director for place, Tim Johnson, whose team is spearheading the £1bn regeneration of the city, has said the council's own investment was making Wolverhampton more attractive to new businesses and private sector investors.

The success of the council-backed i10 office block scheme in the city centre, attracting major firms such as developer Countryside Properties, has led to it unveiling plans for a new block nearby, called i9.

And he underlined the council's commitment to 'aspirational' developments; "We won't compromise on quality. We could build a cheaper railway station, but would it have the same impact on the city in terms of regeneration? Probably not.

"It's like New Street station. They could have built it for half the price but it wouldn't have had the same impact for Birmingham."

He added: "We are custodians of the long term future of the city."

Meanwhile the council has just unveiled news plans to transform Bilston, despite its high levels of crime and deprivation.

The council say it is looking to make Bilston a 'priority' for economic growth by attracting new businesses and creating a 'Bilston Corridor.'