Exclusive: One Year In, Is Andy Street Delivering For West Midlands Property?
It is one year since Andy Street was elected Conservative Metro Mayor of the West Midlands by the narrowest of margins.
Today a £1B housing package is in progress, the Channel 4 relocation is less certain than ever and a spatial strategy is being forced on the region's seven reluctant local councils.
Will it all come together to deliver the housing and jobs growth the property industry wants? Celebrating the first anniversay of his victory by speaking at the Bisnow Birmingham State of the Market event, Street insisted: yes it will.
Street is strong on the big picture. A popular and ebullient speaker, business audiences love him and property audiences love him even more. But one year into his role as West Midlands Metro Mayor, not everything has gone according to plan.
The trophy relocation of Channel 4 from London to Birmingham originally seemed to be all but certain, with Conservative ministers pushing from London, and Street beckoning from the Midlands.
Confidence comes before a fall. Earlier this spring ministers crumbled, and dropped their demand for a wholesale relocation, opting instead for a "national" HQ plus two other regional offices, along with the retention of the London SW1 base.
Now the list of towns and cities bidding for the HQ grows longer every day: even Leamington Spa thinks its in with a chance of scooping the estimated 30K SF deal and the media spinoffs that come with it.
Opening Bisnow's first Birmingham State of the Market event, Street confessed to frustration over the government's decision to back down. Asked if the Channel 4 bid was going backward, Street said: “It has, if you mean, has the government changed its tune on relocation?
"The skeptic in me says [the smaller relocation] means nothing, but I’ve been talking to Channel 4 [Chief Executive] Alex Mahon and it will be a 300 person HQ. It’s a prize worth winning, and the West Midlands is in this to win. We’re the front runner. I hope, and privately expect, we can win it, if we play it right.”
The region's wider future depends on the seven local councils working together. Today three are Conservative and four are Labour, making co-operation across party lines necessary. Meanwhile, each council carefully guards its independence.
In April it emerged that the government had insisted the West Midlands prepare a spatial plan, but has not yet required it to have statutory force.
Can the region work together without a full statutory spatial plan which — like that being developed in Greater Manchester — pulls different political and economic needs together?
"It's going to be the acid test, and I believe the answer is yes," Street said. The £350M Housing Deal agreed earlier this spring is proof, he said. It is the down payment on a £1B housing plan.
"The housing deal shows incredible co-operation that was never there before. If we’d taken an imposed spatial plan we would not have got that degree of co-operation. If we’d have pushed, it would have wasted time and not got on with the real job.”
Street said that skills, not extra planning powers, would be crucial to the success of the West Midlands Combined Authority he chairs.
“The WMCA is not going to be a planning authority — we don’t want to do that — instead its role is to co-ordinate through a land commission how in total we meet the target of 215,000 new homes in 15 years, pushing delivery up from 12,000 a year to 18,000 a year," Street said, adding: “The big threat is skills.”
A new brownfield land remediation institute to address skills shortage is to be created at Wolverhampton University.