Call for talks over fear car park issue could threaten huge Smethwick development

Talks are to take place between developers and planning officers to save a potential £80 million regeneration scheme in Smethwick.

Artist impression of a huge multi-storey car park and residential and commercial development in London Street, Smethwick. Photo: Four Architects
Artist impression of a huge multi-storey car park and residential and commercial development in London Street, Smethwick. Photo: Four Architects

An ambitious scheme to bring new shops, bars, 201 apartments and office space on land off London Street – next to where the new Midland Metropolitan University Hospital is being built – has been unveiled.

But it is at the risk of being torpedoed by planning officers at Sandwell Council, who fear the 10-storey, 1,323 space car park would encourage people to use their cars at a time the authorities are promoting sustainable transport use.

A lengthy debate took place at a planning committee meeting on May 11, and it was decided to defer the decision to allow developer Metropolitan Holdings to enter talks with planners on whether reduced parking would still allow the overall scheme to go ahead.

Councillors and officers said they welcomed the significant investment into the area and supported the principle of the development.

Representatives for the developer said the car parking was to service the flats and commercial properties as well as providing much-needed spaces for the hospital.

Planning advisor and agent Rob Wells said the proposed parking spaces at the hospital had reduced since permission was granted in 2015.

He added that a transport assessment showed a high number of anticipated car journeys which would result in a shortfall of 925 spaces once the hospital was completed.

Assessment

But officers said a fresh assessment had shown there would be fewer trips by car and that they were satisfied with the provision in the hospital’s scheme.

They also said allowing a huge multi-storey facility in the new scheme would go against their policy of encouraging people to use public transport, cycling or walking.

The NHS Trust initially said the Metropolitan Holdings plan complemented theirs but then submitted a late objection saying it would actually hamper sustainable transport policies.

Mr Wells said: “The application is for a major regeneration project in one of your defined regeneration corridors.

“It will provide multiple benefits including significant investment into the borough and not least 201 new homes including affordable houses.

“Going to hospital can be stressful and members are likely to be aware how parking at hospitals can be a problem.

“People do not choose to visit hospital because they want to, it’s a necessity and therefore the quickest and easiest choice of transport is principally the default option.

Support

“Particularly when the hospital is a significant sub regional facility where many will not be able to connect easily by train bus or walking.

“The application will help avoid problems from the outset and support wider regeneration of the area.

“It brings an £80million investment to the borough and provides 350 jobs during construction, affordable accommodation and high quality workspace.”

Committee member Bob Piper said he was “conflicted” over the plan and backed calls to defer the matter.

He said: “I do accept the significant regeneration aspects this would bring to a much-needed area and it’s a substantial development.

“I’m persuaded by those arguments. I also have a concern if there did turn out to be inadequate parking at the hospital.

“Having said that, I also accept the ecological arguments about driving more people into cars and that we are being asked to reduce our carbon footprint.

“Bearing all that mind, we should consider asking both the applicant and officers to take one last look at this and defer it.”

Ismail Ahmad, managing director of Metropolitan Holdings, said they were amenable to reducing parking spaces providing it was economically viable for them to proceed.

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