The deal, which will see the WMCA make more than £1.5m available for the clean-up of the land, is the latest in a series of disused industrial sites to be redeveloped under the authority’s ‘brownfield first’ regeneration programme.
Throughout the lockdown the WMCA has continued to press ahead with its multi-million-pound investment programme to unlock and transform brownfield sites, provide market confidence and help drive the region’s post-Covid-19 economic recovery, delivering new jobs and homes in the process.
A focus on house-building and brownfield sites formed part of the region’s £3.2bn investment blueprint recently submitted to Government, with the region seeking extra cash to extend its existing £100m brownfield-first scheme.
Ministers have already signalled their intention to back the region’s plans, recognising the WMCA’s pioneering brownfield regeneration programme with an extra £84m of new investment awarded earlier this month.
Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, who chairs the WMCA, said:
“Before coronavirus struck, we were one of the most promising regions in England.
“We had the fastest growing economy outside of London; living standards were improving; there was a rapid expansion in house building; and there were increasing numbers of apprenticeships.
“The pandemic has hit us hard but the redevelopment of derelict sites like Harvestime will help kickstart our economy so we can regain our previous momentum, creating new jobs and good quality, affordable homes for local people.
“Without the WMCA’s intervention this new housing scheme just would not have happened, and the site would have remained a derelict eyesore for the local community. Our investment is transformational for this scheme and the critical ingredient.
“By unlocking these brownfield sites for redevelopment we are also relieving pressure on our Green Belt while helping the region build its way out of lockdown to secure a post-Covid-19 recovery that is greener and more socially inclusive.”
The funding deal clears the way for developer Vistry Partnerships to start construction of 88 new homes on the 4.6 acre site with 66 for private rent and a further 22 classed as affordable.
The inclusion of affordable homes is a direct result of a standard WMCA investment clause requiring at least 20% of homes on any scheme given funding to be classed affordable under the combined authority’s own locally applied definition.
Vistry, which was given planning permission for the scheme last month, has chosen to exceed the minimum requirement and make 25% of the new homes affordable.
James Warrington, divisional managing director at Vistry, said:
“We are really pleased to be working with the WMCA, Gatehouse Bank and whg on this exciting regeneration scheme in Walsall. The range of dwellings and mix of tenures will offer the widest possible choice of affordable homes built to the highest standards.”
The site off Raleigh Street, close to Walsall town centre, has stood empty and neglected since the Harvestime Bakery closed in 2012 and its buildings demolished.
Surrounded on three sides by existing residential housing, there have been concerns about anti-social behaviour on the land.
Cllr Mike Bird, leader of Walsall Council and WMCA portfolio holder for housing and land, said:
“The WMCA is leading the way nationally in brownfield land regeneration and this latest transformative investment is great news for local people who have had to look out over a derelict site for more than eight years now.
“But this is just the latest example of how we are transforming unloved former industrial sites into thriving new communities and, in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, that has never been more urgent as we strive to build a strong economic recovery.”
Harvestime Bakeries was once one of Walsall’s biggest employers and there had been a bakery on the site since the 1800s.
But it went into administration twice in 2005 and was rescued through an agreed takeover package by Maple Leaf Bakery UK, securing 250 jobs after more than 100 workers were made redundant.
But the bakery closed in 2012 after the company announced it was leaving the sliced bread market, with the 230-or-so staff being encouraged to apply for posts at the Perfection Foods bakery, which opened elsewhere in the town.