Andy Street: Wolverhampton city centre may have to change from retail tradition
West Midlands Mayor Andy Street has raised concerns over the future of Wolverhampton city centre as he urged council bosses to deliver on a raft of planned developments.
Mr Street said it was time for the Labour-run authority to "actually land" schemes to improve the city centre, including the delayed Westside scheme.
It comes after Debenhams closed its doors just two years after opening in the Mander Centre, while the number of empty city centre stores is now around 120 – meaning one in five shops are closed.
Tories in Wolverhampton say the city centre is in crisis, and accused council bosses of being "deluded" after they insisted retail in the city remained in a healthy position.
Former John Lewis boss Mr Street is calling for the city centre to evolve by shifting away from its focus on retail.
"I am worried about Wolverhampton, and you go other towns and cities and the same thing is happening," the Mayor said.
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"This is a big social phenomenon and we need a dramatic response to it."
He said the city would benefit from up to £50 million in government funding, but warned that it was no use attempting to "put it back to how it was" by "sticking with traditional retail".
"There's a whole evolution to consider and I happen to think that residential is a critical part of the city centre," he said.
"The Beatties news will be a painful transition, but it is probably good news that it's going to end up decidedly different.
"Retail will concentrate more, and you're also going to see more public services and leisure activities in the city centre. Crucially, we have got to see the Westside come together."
He said the i9 and i10 developments, as well as the Wetherspoons hotel plans, were "encouraging", but added: "While you can begin to see improvements, I think my message would be that we have got to actually land some of the ideas that have been talked about.
"There's a lot of schemes and thoughts, but we actually need to see them being delivered."
Wendy Thompson, the Conservative group leader on the council, said: "The city centre is in crisis – you have only got to see the number of empty shops in Queen Square to see that.
"For a lot of people who remember how things used to be, it is seriously distressing. The council needs to adopt a dynamic approach that encourages businesses and shops to come and trade in the city, rather than deluding themselves that everything is alright."
Council bosses insist the city centre's retail offer is "still valued". They are expected to finalise the delayed £55m Westside project this month.