It’s impossible to not be excited by Paulette Hamilton’s enthusiasm, Birmingham’s newest MP. The Member of Parliament for Birmingham Erdington was kind enough to spend some time with me this summer talking about her vision for the future of one of Birmingham’s most exciting suburbs, and the potential to change the area through private and public sector investment.
Last month I wrote about the local housing market in Erdington. Following the official announcement of the bid to the Levelling Up Fund to improve the local high street, I wanted to write about insight Paulette shared with me into the current high street offering when we met a couple of months ago: both the existing issues and the potential opportunities. Opportunities which Paulette wants to make the most of in her transformational plans for the area. Plans which aim to help support the next generation of young Brummies; who Paulette hopes will call the area their home for many years to come, and be proud to do so at the same time!
Across the country, high streets have historically been the centre of local retail, employment and social activity. Today however, with the rise of out-of-town shopping centres, and the sustained uptake in online shopping post-Covid, high streets are experiencing somewhat of an identity crisis: 2019 had the slowest rate of UK spending growth since 2010, resulting in 85,000 retail job losses and 9,169 store closures, whilst the proportion of retail spending online topped 20% for the first time.
Erdington is following the national trend. In our conversation, Paulette spoke openly with me about her concerns for her local high street. The issues Paulette identified regarding the high street fell into three distinct categories: a lack of a diverse employment offering, the run-down appearance of some areas and a lack of places for people to pass time, be this either pleasant public space or café and restaurant facilities. She says that currently, a lack of diversity leads to residents looking elsewhere and leaving the local area for entertainment: ‘currently, people have to travel for a coffee or a meal out, to Wylde Green, Walmley or Sutton Coldfield.’
Paulette is determined to change this. She has ambitious plans for high street regeneration and has already begun putting these into action. In August, Paulette announced she had been part of a successful campaign to reject planning permission for what would have been the eighth betting shop on Erdington’s high street. And, as already mentioned, a mere week later, Paulette announced a bid to the Levelling Up Fund to transform the high street with a £11 million investment from government.
The areas of concern Paulette clearly identified could begin to be addressed through Government funding, which would act as a driver for further investment from the private sector.
The bid, if successful, will see funding directed as follows:
- Creating a new enterprise hub to boost local employment and offering training opportunities
- Improving the look and feel of the area to attract new people to the high street and to help to tackle antisocial behaviour
- Creating new community space to enable people to spend time on the high street
In her own words, ‘we want to reinvigorate the high street to bring in people who are prepared to spend money in their local area, going to the local businesses, if they are done up correctly.’
However, this is not Birmingham City Council’s first attempt to bid for government investment in Erdington. In October 2021, their bid to the previous round of the Levelling Up Fund to improve the condition of Erdington high street was rejected, whereas Moseley Road Baths, Dudley Road and the Birmingham Wheels site were successful in securing funding. And again later that same year, Erdington was also rejected for funding as part of the Future High Streets Fund.
Nevertheless, this has not dissuaded Paulette, as the need to reinvigorate Erdington becomes ever more pressing. In our conversation, she touched on her vision for the area, and the hopes that in making it a more attractive space to pass time in, this in turn will help to attract a new type of local consumer into the market: ‘I want to attract a new, younger market to the area who have money to spend in it. I want to engage our young people. We are in a young area with no facilities for young people.’
To improve the area and to attract this new market, Paulette has been actively involved in shaping this new vision of the high street. Indeed, her successful lobbying to oppose an eighth betting shop is part of this: ‘If we are saying we want to improve the quality of the high street, and then put an eighth betting shop on it, that is not improving anything…I can’t say to residents I want to improve your environment and then open another betting shop.’ She speaks highly of some of the community work going on the high street, with the Erdington Litter Bugs organising litter picks on the high street and surrounding areas.
However, her vision extends beyond reducing the amount of betting shops and tidying up local streets. Fundamentally, these play just a small part in her wider ambition for Erdington. Paulette says that, at times, ‘people feel unsafe on the high street’, but she hopes, that with funding and her dedication to improving the area, not only will it attract a new market, but more importantly local people will have a renewed respect for the high street: ‘I want people to feel pride in the area.’
Another crucial part in the high street reinvigoration is ensuring the younger population earn at a level which affords them disposable income to enjoy the facilities available. As Paulette says: ‘that’s why improving the local employment offering goes hand in hand with developing the high street.’
Whatever the status of the latest bid for Erdington High Street to the Levelling Up Fund, one thing is certain. With Paulette at the helm as local MP, there will be both the energy and the enthusiasm to improve the High Street offering for Erdington’s residents.
It’s clear from Paulette and stakeholders who BECG engage with on a daily basis that place is now a driving force behind successful developments. Politicians want developers to create places where people can succeed, and that can only happen when the private and public sector work together.