Jeremy Hunt’s first budget cemented The West Midlands Combined Authority’s (WMCA) status as a ‘trailblazer’ authority. The WMCA covers 2.9 million people living in Birmingham, Coventry, Wolverhampton, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Solihull. It is the largest in England and has been led by Conservative Mayor Andy Street since its creation in 2017.
The deal announced in the budget should not come as a surprise. Lengthy discussions regarding a new devolution deal for the region have been underway for some time. But the confirmation of new funding for brownfield regeneration will be of particular interest to developers who might be looking for potential growth in the West Midlands.
The £500 million in new funding and new powers to act in partnership with government over land disposals, will be of particular significance in the Black Country, where large areas of un-developed brownfield land remain. With a new metro line under construction and civil servants moving into Wolverhampton, opportunities to take advantage of this funding to unlock new development sites will be a boon for Conservative-led councils wanting to demonstrate a ‘levelling-up’ impact in their area. The budget confirmed an additional £60 million of funding towards the metro line, enabling it to fulfil the ambition of joining Brierley Hill and Dudley into the wider network via a connection at Wednesbury.
The WMCA already has a strong track record of unlocking developable sites and this new deal will turbo charge these efforts. The Combined Authority has been key in supporting significant housing schemes such as Longbridge (which BECG supported), Perry Barr and Friar Park. These schemes alone will deliver thousands of new homes, many of which will be affordable.
The constitution of the WMCA ensures that the co-operation of the leaders of the various local authorities is an essential part of the decision-making process. This makes a virtue of the political balance in the region, which means that Labour and Conservatives each have four voting members on the WMCA cabinet. This well-developed pattern of cross-party co-operation is a contrast to the Labour dominated Liverpool, Manchester and South Yorkshire authorities. This ensures that a greater degree of political buy in exists and political change within constituent councils does not disrupt the decision-making process, even as the power of the authority grows.
Whilst the new devolution deal does not introduce the level of fiscal devolution that some in the region would like to see, it does include provision for more business rate retention. This represents a significant step forward in terms of autonomy for the WMCA and will be welcomed by those who believe that regional devolution is critical to the UK’s future prosperity.
The political maturity of the WMCA, the government’s willingness to support investment zones in the region and the rapid growth already happening should ensure that opportunities for investment into our built environment continue to emerge across the West Midlands. The new deeper devolution deal is a sign of confidence from the government in the region and the WMCA’s ability to deliver.
If you want to know more about the devolution settlement in the West Midlands and what it means for your ambitions do get in touch with us at the BECG Midlands team.