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Major improvements to iconic Black Country venues to begin

Work will start in the coming months of a string of major improvement schemes intended to spark an economic renaissance across the Black Country, the Express & Star can reveal today.

The landmark Wolverhampton Civic
The landmark Wolverhampton Civic

Work on the Civic Halls and Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton, expansion of Dudley and Halesowen Colleges, kick-starting development of the Goscote Lane housing project in Walsall and business support schemes in Sandwell have all been given the green light.

After securing £138 million in the Black Country Growth Deal this summer, local councils and the area's Local Enterprise Partnership have been working on pushing forward with the 14 projects that were given the go-ahead by the Government as part of the funding deal.

The Black Country's Strategic Economic Plan, dubbed 'Made in the Black Country, Sold around the World', will see £35 million of Local Growth Funding from the Government pumped into backing regeneration schemes and college extensions across the area over the coming year.

It is the start of what has been promised to be £138 million of Government funding over the next five years, expected to generate total investment of £450 million in the Black Country with additional money from other government agencies, local authorities and the private sector.

Work is to begin at Wolverhampton's Grand Theatre

Since Prime Minister David Cameron announced the Growth Deal at Halesowen College in July, each project has gone through a detailed development process to turn them into a reality.

So far six of the 14 schemes have been given the final go ahead, with dates set for work to start. Others are due to get their own green light in the coming months.

Stewart Towe, chairman of the Black Country Local Enteprise Partnership, said: "Our Growth Deal saw a total Government investment of £138 million, generating total investment of £450 million over the next five years.

"This is a result of the LEP's strong partnership working and a robust evidence-based plan for growth.

"We look forward to the Deal's flexibility to manage the implementation of the projects to increase economic benefits."

The LEP is the organisation made up of local business leaders like Mr Towe, chairman and managing director of Smethwick-based Hadley Industries, and the leaders of the four Black Country councils of Wolverhampton, Walsall, Dudley and Sandwell. Its job is to promote economic growth and job creation in the area.

LEP members, specialists and council officers scrutinised each project during October, with the business case for each scheme then being analysed by the Black Country Joint Committee Advisory Board.

Each project was studied in detail, going through a process that analyses the business case for the work, how the projects will be managed, what they will cost, how they will be funded, what benefits they will produce for the area and how any risks attached to the schemes will be managed.

Last month each project was subjected to further questioning by a 'Star Chamber' of members from the advisory board and a working group from the joint committee.

The whole process is intended to ensure that each project is run properly and will hit its targets in terms of how much it costs and the benefits it produces.

So far the schemes that have come through the process are the expansion and improvement of the Civic Halls and Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton, CABTech Centre for advance building technologies and construction skills at Dudley College, an advanced science engineering and technology centre at Halesowen College, work on the Goscote Lane housing scheme in Walsall, the FAB Kit programme in Sandwell to provide hi-tech equipment for industrial training, and a business support scheme in Sandwell.

These projects are intended to create hundreds of new jobs, thousands of opportunities for skills training, hundreds of homes and give scores of companies in the area vital backing to expand.

The expansion of Dudley and Halesowen colleges are seen as key to the plan to re-industrialise the Black Country, and the Prime Minister pub young people at the heart of his plans when he announced the funding this summer.

He also spoke of the need for the projects to be run locally. Mr Cameron said: "Growth Deals are a crucial part of our long-term plan to secure Britain's future.

"For too long, our economy has been too London-focused and too centralised. Growth Deals will help change all that. They are about firing up our great towns and cities, boosting local economies and driving growth across the country.

"This historic deal means real change with exciting plans for the Black Country including better transport links for both road and rail, building hundreds more homes and helping to give people the skills they need to get on and the local economy the workforce it needs to prosper.

"By trusting local people, backing business and investing in infrastructure, skills and housing, we can create thousands of new jobs. And that means more economic security, peace of mind and a brighter future for hardworking people in the West Midlands."

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