Wolverhampton Westside plans 'increased not diminished' after pandemic - council leader

The leader of Wolverhampton Council has laid out his priorities for the year ahead – with firing up the stalled Westside scheme towards the top of his list.

Wolverhampton Council leader Ian Brookfield has big plans for the city in the coming year
Wolverhampton Council leader Ian Brookfield has big plans for the city in the coming year

Councillor Ian Brookfield said the £55 million development, which will see shops, restaurants, leisure activities and a multiplex cinema take over land around Salop Street, had been held up by the pandemic.

But he said today that the council's plans for the site had been "increased not diminished". He announced that talks are taking place with a major international chain over opening a hotel in the city, while "movement" was expected soon on a cinema deal with Odeon.

Work was due to start last summer on Westside but it was put on hold due to Covid. It led to fears the scheme could become the next Summer Row – a major retail development in the city that was scrapped in 2011 in the wake of the financial crisis.

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Councillor Brookfield said Westside was a key part of the £4.5 billion investment the council was looking to deliver to improve infrastructure and boost businesses.

He said: "If we didn't have the last 18 months it would probably be halfway built by now. Covid has stopped it, but I'm looking forward to getting that part of the city sorted out.

"Our plans for that area are increased not diminished."

Councillor Brookfield said Odeon was "very much still in the mix" to build the cinema that will underpin the scheme, but said other operators could well be sounded out.

"During the pandemic I don't think any of the major cinema chains spent any capital at all on starting new projects," he said.

"With cinemas starting to reopen, they will be getting their cashflow back and we'll be talking to operators to get that part of the development under way.

"We have continued to talk to Odeon and they continue to be interested in wanting to do it. I'm sure we'll have movement."

Councillor Brookfield said the year ahead would be "massive" for the city in terms of regeneration, citing the i54 expansion, the completion of the transport interchange and the long-awaited conclusion of work on the Civic halls, which are due to reopen in early 2022.

Frustrating

"It's been frustrating and it's gone on far too long," he said, referring to the massive delays that have dogged the Civic revamp.

He said the £43m cost of the work would be paid for over the next 20 years through operating costs from the venue's new operator.

"It is good news that ultimately it won't have cost taxpayers a penny piece," he added.

Councillor Brookfield also revealed that a deal was imminent for up to 300 staff from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) to take over two floors of the i9 building in the city centre.

"For us, jobs is a big priority, because without steady income coming in every other aspect of life becomes difficult for people," he said.

"We've got the ministry coming, and we're looking at major new announcements on further job opportunities in the next month or so, including extending Wolves At Work."

Councillor Brookfield said the council was committed to making the city "the best place possible for our children", and has pledged £2m "to ensure that services and facilities will return to all our communities".

He has also prioritised climate, with plans afoot to start retrofitting homes, a move he said would "not only reduce heating costs but also bring jobs".

"People are realising we are in a desperate situation with our planet and we all have to do our bit," he said.

Pensioners

"And we have to start now. We can't just keep waiting if we want to make our contribution." A new cabinet post for climate change will be created in 2022, he said.

Councillor Brookfield said the council was pressing ahead with plans to offer more help for the city's pensioners, and was looking to provide an extra care village featuring hundreds of homes for people who need help to live independently.

Last week saw Labour lose some of its majority in the council chamber after the Conservatives picked up five seats in the local elections. It left Labour with 44 seats to the Conservatives 15.

One of those to go was deputy leader Louise Miles, who Councillor Brookfield has since replaced as his number two with Bilston East councillor Steve Simkins.

Councillor Brookfield said that while Labour's vote in the city had not collapsed as it had done in other neighbouring authorities, the party's troubles nationally had not helped candidates.

"People are sick and tired of infighting on a national level," Councillor Brookfield Brookfield said.

"We need to get our house in order. At the end of the day we're all from the same party, some are from the left, some from the centre, and that's fine.

"We've all lived under this broad church before and we need to do it again."

He said Sir Keir Starmer deserved "a fair run" at turning things around so that results would improve across the country for Labour next year.

Addressing the elections in Wolverhampton, Councillor Brookfieldsaid the majority of old Ukip votes had gone to the Tories, and that a sense of "political balance" may be returning to the city.

"We may be going back to what used to happen when you would get 23 or 24 Conservatives in the chamber with 36 or 37 Labour," he said.

"It looks like that kind of balance may well be returning."

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