Express & Star

Land in West Bromwich will be compulsory purchased to fast track town centre revamp

Land in West Bromwich will be compulsory purchased without consent of the owner by Sandwell Council to fast track regeneration of the town centre and the indoor market.

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Concept art for what West Bromwich Town Centre may look like. Copyright Sandwell council

A report by Sandwell council approved the director of regeneration of growth, Tony McGovern, to purchase land and property interests necessary to deliver zones one and two identified in the West Bromwich Masterplan.

Land identified in for a CPO include Kings Square, the Farley centre, Bull street the Town Hall quarter, and Queens Square.

Sandwell Council hopes to create, through the West Bromwich masterplan, a new town square, a Metro gateway, a food hall, parks and streets with residential and leisure developments. The council claims the town centre will be “unrecognisable” in 20 years.

Compulsory purchase orders (CPO) are a legal mechanism by which local  authorities can acquire land without the consent of the owner.

Compulsory purchase powers can support the delivery of a range of development, regeneration and infrastructure projects in the public interest. However CPOs can be legally challenged by land owners.

Sandwell Council was successful in securing £25 million of Town Deal funding as part of the government’s £3.6 billion commitment to transform town centres across the country.

Of this approximately £15.62 million will be allocated to scheme within the masterplan. A breakdown of this includes £13 million for retail diversification including land acquisition, demolition, and remediation; £1.4 million for walking and cycling improvements, and £1.22 million for urban greening works.

In addition to this, £1.3 million has been secured from the West Midlands Combined Authority to support.

Land has already been acquired by Sandwell council, using the £13 million retail diversification fund. In July last year, the council purchased Kings Square shopping centre.

The retail diversification fund will also create a new indoor market for West Bromwich which will provide a new fit-for-purpose home for traders and a boost to the evening economy in the town.

Sandwell council is bound by the provision of Section 123 of the local government act 1972 and must demonstrate best value in all transactions. As such, the council is “financially constrained and must consider alternative acquisition strategies”, according to the report.

The report notes: “The role of town centres is changing across the country as evolving consumer behaviours, particularly the increase in online shopping, impacts the high street. This has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“To succeed, town centres need to re-shape and diversify. Introducing new uses including residential, leisure and offices, creating aspirational public spaces and high-quality design is key to creating vibrant places that residents can be proud of.

“West Bromwich remains one of the four strategic centres in the Black Country, and the implementation of the West Bromwich masterplan is essential if it is to continue to serve the needs of local people, the wider population and the business community.”

It is understood, if the plans are successful, 1,740 jobs will be created for local residents. Economic activity worth £105.9 million will be generated by the plans, with 1,359 new homes and £2.5 million in business rates.

It comes after the plans reveal housing has not kept up with the growing population. In 2018-19 only 794 houses were delivered in Sandwell, well below the government’s assessment of Sandwell requiring 1,432 homes.

Phasing would also consider the relocation and retention of important community assets such as the market. The level of vacant space within the town at present means that it may be possible to identify opportunities for the temporary relocation of space while redevelopment takes place and until new facilities are ready for occupation.

Councillor Peter Hughes, the cabinet member for regeneration and growth, said: “Based on current negotiations, it’s not expected that acquisition by agreement within the bounds of section 123 will be possible.

“This cabinet approval is the first of a two stage cabinet process which seeks to a established political will to progress a CPO in order to deliver the aspirations outlined in the West Bromwich masterplan.”

Labour councillor Jackie Taylor asked why derelicit land in her ward, Greets Green and Lyng, could not be purchased under a CPO. “It’s land that stands dormant particularly in that ward for years, which attracts anti-social behaviour,” she added.

In response, councillor Hughes said: “A compulsory purchase order should only be made where there is a compelling case in the public interest. Usually this is to facilitate major regeneration projects in line with a local plan, such as this one.

Each individual site should be evaluating to understand if it is in the public interest to pursue a CPO […] I recognise the frustration. In my own ward, there are similar pieces of land. But I am aware the CPOs can be costly and lengthy and can be challenged. It’s got to really have some substance behind it.”

The cabinet report was approved.