West Midlands Mayor Andy Street has urged Sutton Coldfield business leaders to apply for money to help rejuvenate the town centre – saying ‘funding is available’.
Mr Street, who chairs the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), was speaking to a breakfast meeting of the Sutton Coldfield Chamber of Commerce at Aston Wood Golf Club on Wednesday, October 23.
He told Chamber members: “It’s a real sadness to me that Sutton town centre is going the way it is because, frankly, this is one of the most affluent towns in Britain.
“Whenever a list is published of the best places to live in Britain, Sutton Coldfield is always up there with the likes of Guildford and Epsom, but– despite all the efforts of the BID team who do some great work – somehow the town centre has lost its way.
“Andrew Mitchell MP and I did a survey on the town centre, which should have come through everyone’s door, and we got more than 6500 responses which told us just how much concern there is over the town centre.
“One statistic that it revealed was very interesting – it showed that the proportion of people who live in Sutton and said they shop in Sutton is pretty small. They go to Birmingham, Tamworth, Solihull - so you are losing a lot of trade and we have to think about what we are going to do.
“A town centre masterplan process has started, driven by the Town Council and we stand ready to respond to that.
“Whether we have got to buy vacant properties, or if there needs to be a change of use for properties to create more housing, we are ready to respond to that plan to regenerate the town centre. Funding is available.”
Mr Street also said that he was ‘committed’ to creating a plan that could see the railway line that runs through the park reopened to passengers.
He told the meeting: “We are busy reopening our old railway lines, in Camphill in the south of the City, and from Walsall to Wolverhampton in the Black Country.
“Among the next series of lines we will be looking at – and I’m committed to this, it will be in my next manifesto – is the Sutton Park Line, which runs from Aldridge through Walmley and round to Castle Bromwich and then into the city.
“The last time the line was used for passengers was in 1965, but we will have a plan for bringing that back into use, which I think is really exciting news for Sutton Coldfield.”
Plans are currently in an advanced state to reopen long-closed railway stations in places like Moseley, Kings Heath, Darlastan and Willenhall, with planning applications tabled, land purchased and designs created. A feasibility study is already underway into reopening the station at Aldridge.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Street said: “Across the West Midlands real progress is being made on re-opening stations for communities in Birmingham and Walsall – if there, why not here?”
At the meeting Mr Street also outlined some of the work being done by the WMCA to improve skill levels, build more homes and tackle the issue of homelessness, while stressing his determination to ensure that HS2 goes ahead.
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