Andy Street: We must bring people back to the high street

Andy Street says breathing new life into the traditional shopping areas across the four boroughs is a key challenge as the region bids to recover from the ravages of the pandemic.

Mayor Andy Street.
Mayor Andy Street.

The West Midlands Mayor says the reinvention of town and city centres is one of the biggest jobs ahead for the region.

As he seeks re-election, the former boss of John Lewis says it is important to be honest about the reality of the changing shape of the region’s economy.

“We’ve got to be positive about it because the brutal truth is we are not going back to exactly where we were five or 10 years ago,” he said.

“It’s not the end of retail, but there is no question that the value of a big department store is a lot less than it was, so you have to think about other things that will draw people in.

“I want to bring these places to life 24 hours a day.”

Mr Street says that while retail will continue to play a major role in smaller, “vibrant” centres such as Tettenhall and Halesowen, bigger town and city centres would see more housing, pointing to the homes scheme at the old Bull Street car park in West Bromwich.

There was also a place for high quality public services, he said, as well as more health facilities and local business start-up hubs, the latter of which he has committed to a network of in his manifesto.

Cultural institutions, such as Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre, can perform “that anchor function” of attracting visitors from far and wide, he said, adding: “Change is coming, and we are managing through various sources to liberate cash to make a really positive future for these places, rather than looking back.”

Although Birmingham-born, one of his first pledges was to be a Mayor for the whole region, something which he says involved learning fast about the various nuances of the Black Country, its people and its history.

“People have talked about things happening in the Black Country for years and they just haven’t happened,” Mr Street said.

“What people are now seeing is development and regeneration actually happening before their eyes.”

He points out that before he was Mayor the West Midlands was rock bottom of the Government’s table of capital expenditure by region.

And while all of the region missed out, the Black Country was hit hardest, with the majority of investment that did come in landing in Birmingham. So far Mr Street says he has brought £1.2 billion into the Black Country, with much of the investment spread across transport, housing, skills and regeneration projects.

“That expenditure is now above average, and the Black Country is getting its share,” he said. “I said from the start that I would be the Mayor for all the region and I’ve tried to live up to that. We’ve tilted investment towards the Black Country, and Dudley and Sandwell have now had more than Birmingham.”

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