THE West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) has approved nearly £100million for Coventry city centre redevelopment – falling short of a £150million pledge promised to the public last year as a ‘sweetener’ for Coventry joining the controversial new regional authority.
Coventry City Council says it will go towards the much delayed and much needed regeneration of the southern half of the post-war city centre, estimated to be a £360million scheme.
City centre trade has been flagging behind many smaller towns for years.
Plans include a major retail, residential and leisure scheme, including a top name anchor store, new homes and a cinema.
The City Centre South site borders Upper Precinct, and extends to Greyfriars Road and Warwick Road, including Bull Yard.
WMCA – a group of seven council leaders including Coventry City Council’s George Duggins – was eventually formed this year. It was despite objections and concerns from thousands of petitioning Coventry residents.
The WMCA announced it had approved the funds at a meeting on Friday, claming £100million was its ‘biggest slice of devolution funding to date’.
The WMCA was formed after former Conservative chancellor George Osborne stated such new regional bodies, headed by an elected metro mayor, would be favoured by the government when considering handing down some decision making powers and funds from Whitehall to the English regions.
Former Coventry City Council leader Ann Lucas – ousted by Coun Duggins in a leadership coup in April – had sought to influence public opinion by pointing to the pledged £150million for Coventry city centre – which would come from £36million a year for the West Midlands devolved from central government.
Council leaders calculated it would contribute to an ‘£8billion’ 30-year investment package for the region, including for HS2 package and £568million for Coventry _ not solely in devolved funds but in potential borrowing and money raising powers.
Coun Jim O’Boyle, Coventry cabinet member for jobs and regeneration, said the additional £50million for the city centre not yet approved had been specifically earmarked for the Friargate business district around the station.
He said discussions were ongoing about that, including over securing a tenant for the second tower block, as revealed recently by this newspaper.
Coun Duggins said: “I’m delighted that the combined authority has approved £98.8 million investment for the redevelopment of our city centre.
“We’ve got ambitious and exciting plans for City Centre South, which will include new shops, a cinema, homes and a new car park that will transform the area around Bull Yard, Shelton Square and Market Way.
“It’s no less than Coventry people deserve and a wonderful early Christmas present for the city.
“Coventry people have waited too long for improvements to the city centre. But this cash is a real boost and will mean we can crack on and select a developer.
“We said we would make sure that our residents felt the benefits of our membership of the combined authority and this is the first cash boost, with more to come.”
WMCA finance and investment lead member Coun Izzi Seccombe, who is also leader of Warwickshire County Council, a ‘non-constituent’ member of WMCA, said: “I’m delighted the combined authority has been able to support this scheme.
“Not only is it excellent news for Coventry – but development on this scale also means a significant boost to the wider regional economy.”
It is in the context of ruling Labour councillors consistently pointing to government funding reductions to the council alone amounting to over £100million by 2020.
Petitioners feared powers would be ceded to a ‘greater Birmingham’ authority heading by a Birmingham-centric elected metro mayor, whose additional powers will include to raise additional council tax through a precept.
Coun Duggins himself led opposition in 2012 to having an elected mayor run Coventry council claiming it would place too much power in one individual’s hands. Coventry voters rejected the idea by two-to-one in a government-enforced referendum.
The council last year decided to invite potentially cheaper bids from other developers after previously securing Queensbury Real Estate (QRE) to work up proposals for the 560,000 sq ft Coventry City Centre South redevelopment.
It had hit the buffers after such a scheme was deemed by the previous developers to be unaffordable and unviable without multi-million pound council subsidy.
The City Centre South retail scheme for “a complex the size of Solihull’s Touchwood development including shops, restaurants and cinema” was granted outline planning consent in 2012.
It was a scaling down of an ambitious £1billion plan by US architects Jerde in 2009 for giant rooftop gardens, modernist architecture alongside the city’s medieval and post-war buildings, and a resurrected Sherbourne river.
Coventry’s challenge has long been to attract shoppers visiting Birmingham, Solihull and Leamington instead.
The plan had previously been for City Centre North to follow after completion of the City Centre South project in 2018.
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