Andy Street's £1B Property Plan Revealed
Two months ahead of the official MIPIM announcements, West Midlands Metro Mayor Andy Street has for the first time revealed the outlines of his plan for property.
But with money pressing on one side, green belt campaigners on the other, and political differences between a Conservative mayor and Labour councils already causing trouble, can it work?
It is eight months since Street was elected the West Midlands' first metro mayor. Street is now beginning to put his stamp on the region.
Speaking last week at a meeting of Open Land, the Midland's LGBT prfessionals network, Street revealed how the plan is taking shape — and what to expect at the MIPIM property convention in Cannes in March, where big announcements are promised.
Street's strategy is going to mean 215,000 new houses in return for a £1B funding boost, along with ambitious transport investment.
"We'll be talking at MIPIM about our integrated transport plan — we now have the components for that," Street said, revealing that the first tests of an Oyster-style transport swipe card were now underway.
"There will also be a housing deal in place with the government, in which the West Midlands increases the pace of housing in return for government cash. That will be another 215,000 housing starts over 15 years, doubling the programme, in return for which the government [will] pay us £1B. We expect that the be confirmed by March this year," Street said.
Street said that the £1B extra government support would be to provide infrastructure to open up additional brownfield housing sites, and stressed that his plan included social housing.
"Social housing will be part of the plan — I am determined it will not just be for private ownership," Street told the meeting. "The key is government cash to get brownfield sites into use."
Street said he is already exploring how modular housing could be used in talks with the Homes & Communities Agency and that the region could become an "exemplar" of new home building techiques.
Green Belt Headaches?
In looking to open up more brownfield sites, Street's £1B housing plan is designed to take pressure off green belt alternatives. But where will the houses go?
Dudley council has caved in to pressure from Street and a coalition of campaigners to suspend consultation on releasing 180 acres for commercial development and land for up to 6,000 homes around Halesowen. The fight is not over yet, with local campaigners promising a "long battle."
The Dudley dispute comes amidst projections that another 24,600 new homes and 720 acres of commercial land — all of it green belt — will be required in the Black Country alone.
"I've never said you can't build on any green belt, but we must make good use of brownfield land," Street told Bisnow. "This is why the £1B housing deal is so important. But we can also envisage more housing along the lines of the Metro tram extensions."
"We also have to look objectively at some use of green belt land, because not all green belt sites are equally valuable. The Halesowen was an area of special beauty."
Money is going to be crucial to Street's strategy for the West Midlands and he already has a problem. Earlier this month Street proposed to add £10.80 a year to Band D council tax to help pay for mayoral services, with the aim of not spending the region's £36.5M annual devolution bonus payment on running costs.
However, meeting earlier in January, the Labour council leaders who sit on the West Midlands Combined Authority have already said they are "minded" to turn the plan down. "This was always going to be the tricky bit, and it's proving to be a very difficult issue," Street said. "I'm not too worried, because we will find a way through this because we're arguing over a few bob. We should focus on the big picture."
There are bigger problems in the background. The West Midlands Devolution Deal between local councils and the government is supposed to mean £8B of new funding to invest in development sites, major projects and regional infrastructure.
According to a report presented to the West Midlands Combined Authority earlier this month, a mere £126M of the £2B generated in the region is guaranteed. That amounts to just 1.58%. Just 30% of the £8B overall funding is coded "green" meaning it is regarded as lined-up.
Today as much as 25% of the region's once-in-a-lifetime funding pot — £2B — is coded red, meaning it is regarded as carrying the greatest risk. Ultimately Philip Hammond's Treasury is in charge.
"£2B is either guaranteed or firmly expected, but this was always going to be the story because that is how public funding works," Street told Bisnow.
Did Street's plan convince the 100-plus guests at the Open Land event?
"Andy as mayor has his finger on the pulse, and he is probably the best-connected politician outside London, already trail-blazing on devolution," Court Collaboration co-founder Anthony McCourt said.
However, McCourt — who was instrumental in the Birmingham Cube development — confesses that the devolution picture is complicated. In particular, Street and the Labour-controlled Combined Authority have no strategic planning powers — unlike Burnham in Greater Manchester.
"Devolution is a journey. Over time I expect the West Midlands mayor will get those planning powers. But in the meantime don't underestimate Andy Street's soft power," McCourt said.