In early July, political and business leaders from across the West Midlands launched the call to government for an investment package to ‘recharge’ the region. Aligned to much of the government’s rhetoric, but with the tangibility of a themed and costed programme of investments, in Andy Street’s own words, the plan presented an opportunity to demonstrate commitment to the levelling-up agenda.
Green recovery is front and centre of the plan, recognising opportunities to capitalise on the region’s strengths in automotive innovation, while helping the nation to deliver on its commitments to net zero emissions. Calls include funding to attract private sector investment in the building of a regional Gigafactory, to manufacture electric vehicle batteries, the rollout of electric vehicle charging infrastructure and immediate energy efficiency improvements to 6,000 homes aimed at reducing fuel poverty in the region. This green focus was reflected in the PM’s own economic recovery rhetoric on 30th June in Dudley, where he talked about ‘building back greener’ and recognised that the region is ‘at the cutting edge of green technology’.
With the extent of economic damage caused by Covid-19 still to be fully understood, HS2 opposition campaigns have bolstered their scepticism over the benefits of the multi-billion-pound project. However, the region’s recovery blueprint emphasises that the major infrastructure investment is crucial to supporting inward investment and regeneration in the region. BECG’s Midlands team has been supporting Cole Waterhouse in bringing forward such a project to transform Digbeth, this alone would support hundreds of jobs and provide over 900 urban homes. On the theme of addressing housing need, the plan acknowledges its obligations to deliver many more homes but maintains regional resistance to Green Belt release. Instead focus is placed on brownfield regeneration with plans to establish a National Brownfield Institute in Wolverhampton.
Refreshingly, the plan places equal focus on required improvements to our digital connectivity and the need for investment in public transport links. For those of us who are able to, remote working has transformed the way we do our jobs. While many are itching to return to office normality, there is no doubt that Covid-19 has forced a digital revolution we all needed and that is here to stay. Investments are sought to incentivise extending the region’s fibre network and a digital innovation fund for the 5G application accelerator project.
As would be expected, this is an ambitious and expensive plan for recovery. Launching it, Andy Street talked about learning lessons from the region’s 2008/2009 economic recovery. And while this is obviously important, this plan offers something quite different. In acknowledging that Covid-19 is one of the greatest challenges the country has ever faced, there is recognition of opportunities to rebuild a greener, more inclusive economy. With Rishi having delivered much-needed injections of cash to keep the UK-economy going, the West Midlands presents its challenge to government to deliver on its promise of levelling up.