From a “cheque in the post” from Government, funding for a rebuilt railway station, to football jubilation and meeting the boss of John Lewis, I wanted to share some thoughts on what has been another interesting week in the West Midlands.
First I must reflect on the new instances of Covid-19 in the region. After being in a very good place for a number of weeks and avoiding new outbreaks, we are now starting to see spikes of the virus occur. The issues in Sandwell have been widely reported (and indeed well dealt with by the public health team there). But on top of this, the week has also seen rises in the number of live cases in Birmingham, and Wolverhampton, and to a small extent in Coventry. Overall the incidence across the West Midlands continues to be low, and no area – even those that have experienced spikes - is anywhere near the level of Leicester. However, what we have learnt from our East Midlands neighbours is that local outbreaks can deteriorate rapidly without proper support and intervention. All areas have sophisticated outbreak plans in place led by public health experts, but stopping these spikes escalating also relies on every individual continuing to play their part and keeping up the high levels of responsibility. That means maintaining social distancing, washing hands frequently, and following the new face-covering guidance that came into force yesterday. We must not let the virus take hold again.
In response to the increase in cases, I took the opportunity of the regular briefing call with faith leaders to explain the latest situation and ask them to ensure their communities understood the up to date guidance on stopping the spread. It was a very similar conversation at the weekly Economic Impact Group meeting, and the WMCA has agreed to circulate a user-friendly version of the latest workplace guidance. If any business is unsure please contact your local representative organisation for this simple advice. We are all in this together, and we must ensure every community knows exactly what to do.
From an economic perspective, it has been a more mixed week. Although the overall picture hasn’t changed, with our region predicted to be one of the worst affected, there were a number of positive stories that are worth reflecting on. Yesterday the full business case for the brand new £56 million University Station was approved, meaning we can now get diggers in the ground and open the new station in time for the Commonwealth Games in 2022. Projects like University Station are critical because they guarantee work in the construction sector, protecting and creating local jobs. This is also an exciting time for transport infrastructure in the region, with metro extensions underway in Birmingham and the Black Country, and planning applications either submitted or approved for new railway stations in Darlaston, Willenhall, Kings Heath, Hazelwell, and Moseley. Elsewhere car manufacturer Lotus has announced it is opening a new research centre in the wider West Midlands proving the point that our impressive automotive cluster will act as a magnet for future investment. Meanwhile, discussions about the specific support the sector needs to overcome the COVID challenges continue at pace behind the scenes.
Also this week we received £84m from Government to continue our pioneering brownfield-first regeneration work. For those who aren’t aware, this approach is all about targeting derelict industrial sites and using Government cash to decontaminate them so developers can turn them into housing and commercial space. Not only does this regenerate old, eye-sore sites, but it also allows us to protect the precious greenbelt around the region. As part of this government commitment, it was good to welcome Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the House of Commons, to Walsall to show him around Phoenix 10 – a 44-acre site that has sat derelict for 20 years but thanks to our brownfield-first intervention will now be developed into commercial units. In order to continue this approach and to protect our green fields in the West Midlands, we need people to put their brownfield sites forward to be developed. I have joined forces with the Black Country MPs to call on residents to offer up derelict sites, and you can find out more about this here - https://www.andystreet.org.uk/news/mps-and-i-appeal-derelict-sites-protect-green-belt
More good news was the setting of an opening date of October 1 for the conference and events sector. Although it has taken slightly longer than we would have liked to secure this date, it is good our venues now have a date they can work towards. Clearly this is vitally important to the NEC Group - a huge regional employer. It was good to welcome their CEO Paul Thandi to our regional media briefing yesterday to discuss the challenges he now faces in re-opening. Paul and I have worked closely together in the past to bring major events to the West Midlands, so it was great this week to hear the Conservative Party to commit to three more party conferences in Birmingham – 2022, 2024, and 2026. Amanda Milling, the MP for Cannock Chase and one of the Conservative Party’s co-chairs, visited the region to make the announcement, and it was great to hear her praise for the West Midlands and how we managed to convince her and her team to commit to Birmingham. Each Conference expects to bring £20m to the local economy - especially to the hotels, restaurants and retailers.
And speaking of shops… As has been widely reported, myself, Ian Ward (the leader of Birmingham City Council), and Neil Rami (The CEO of the West Midlands Growth Company) met with senior John Lewis executives, including chair Dame Sharon White, to discuss the partnership’s proposal to close their flagship Birmingham store. The meeting was very cordial and I want to thank Dame Sharon and her team for taking the time to hear our proposals. I still firmly believe the brand will be making a dreadful mistake if it presses ahead with its proposals, and I will continue to fight to keep John Lewis in the city.
Of course, I couldn’t reflect on the week without mentioning the football. Huge congratulations must go to West Bromwich Albion and their fans after the Baggies secured a much-deserved return to the top-flight. This obviously means that, IF the Villa can get over the line this weekend, the West Midlands would have three Premier League teams competing next season. This would be a major economic boost at a difficult time, adding tens of millions to the regional economy, whilst giving fans the prospect of six local derbies in one season.
I’m now off to the Welsh countryside for a few days where no doubt I will bump into some of you! Wales has always been the go-to holiday destination for Midlanders, and I’m sure that will ring even truer this year.
Thanks for reading,