'Pay up and deliver': Wolverhampton Council leader challenges Mayor Andy Street
The leader of Wolverhampton Council has challenged Andy Street to “put his hand in his pocket” and start delivering for the city.
Councillor Ian Brookfield suggested Wolverhampton was treated like “the poor cousin” of the West Midlands Combined Authority, and claimed the Mayor’s attentions were focused on Birmingham and Coventry.
He has defended the Labour-run authority’s record of delivering on major infrastructure projects, despite “swingeing cuts” imposed by Mr Street’s Conservative government.
It comes after Mayor Street urged the city council to “actually land” schemes to improve the city centre, including the delayed Westside development.
Councillor Brookfield said: “Some people I speak to complain that the mayor’s got deeper pockets for the other two cities in the region, and that alas, the City of Wolverhampton is the poor cousin.
“It’s not a position I’m happy to tolerate and I’ve sharpened my elbows since taking on this job.
“When the combined authority was established, the mantra was that everyone will benefit but at different times. I believe it’s time for this city – and the mayor needs to start delivering.”
He said he found the mayor’s comments “all the more disappointing and disingenuous” as the council had been working with the WMCA on the redevelopment of the railway station, and claimed the council had developed an “ambitious plan to re-imagine our city centre” despite having £220 million in government funding “swept away”.
The city centre has been described as being in “crisis”, with one in five shops empty and the revamp of the Civic halls long delayed and quadruple its original budget. The £55m Westside development is also delayed.
Mr Brookfield said the council had invested £83 million in schemes, including £28m for the i10 and i9 developments, £38m on the Civic halls revamp and £13m to “secure” the St George’s site in the city centre.
“All these developments are being driven by the council and are either on site or soon set to be,” he said. “Yes, they’ve taken time, yes market conditions have been tough and yes the council’s finances have been hammered by Government whilst we’ve been trying to do all this.”
The council leader also demanded the release of government funding pledged for the city’s National Brownfield Institute, the 5G innovation hub at Springfield, as well as cash promised for the remediation of old industrial sites.
“We’ve been thinking differently and re-imagining our city centre for a number of years now,” Councillor Brookfield said.
“We’re delivering more good jobs, more city centre homes, better connectivity, a better cultural offer, better skills, better public spaces and yes, a better retail and entertainment offer.
”With the Government making money available to ‘level’ up the country, we also call upon the mayor to do his bit to help the city secure those funds.
“Mr Street, it’s time to step up to the plate.”
In response, Mr Street said he had made "significant investments" in Wolverhampton, including the interchange station, the i54, and housing in Saints Quarter and Steelhouse Lane.
He said he was doing all he can to accelerate the development in the city.
"On top of this, the WMCA is putting serious cash on the table across the whole of the Black Country to help remediate brownfield land to allow homes to be built there instead of on the greenbelt – something I know the people of Wolverhampton feel incredibly strongly about," Mr Street added.
"This investment and development is happening right now, and show homes are already open at the Lovells development on Steelhouse Lane in the city.
"Other Wolverhampton schemes the WMCA is either behind or has contributed significantly to include the development of the Interchange Station and the expansion of the Midland Metro to the new station, the re-opening of the Wolverhampton to Walsall rail corridor to passengers, securing a 5G hub in the city as part of the West Midlands being named the UK’s first 5G testbed, further investment in the i54, and turning the University of Wolverhampton’s Springfield campus into a centre of construction excellence to help propel the city into a world leader in state-of-the-art construction.
"The people of Wolverhampton want to see action, and this is exactly what the WMCA is pressing ahead and doing."