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Centres of style

The decline of the manufacturing industry has left parts of the West Midlands in dire need of regeneration. Ian Lawrence explores some of the schemes under way.

A spectacular landmark building is set to dominate the new look West Bromwich.

The £40M pUBLIC arts centre is due to open next year, forming the centrepiece of a redesigned town centre complete with cafes, trendy bars and a bustling square featuring unique community artwork.

All this seems a far cry from the bleak, uninspired urban landscape of Sandwell that urban regeneration company RegenCo was tasked in 2003 to transform.

The partnership between Sandwell Borough Council, national regeneration agency English Parternerships and regional development agency Advantage West Midlands aims to attract £1bn of investment and 20,000 jobs to the area.

'There are a number of reasons why regeneration is needed, ' explains deputy chief executive Chris White. 'Below average levels of educational attainment has limited the ability of the population to gain higher salaries. At the same time we've had the decline of the manufacturing industries.

'Land has been built on in a fragmented way, so in the past it has been difficult for developers to come in. All these factors are starting to be addressed.' The next step is to make Sandwell, and its unofficial 'capital' West Bromwich, an attractive proposition for residents, who traditionally flee the area as soon as their pockets enable them to.

Architect of the pUBLIC is the attention grabbing Will Alsop, and White describes it as 'an amazing structure', with exhibition centre, studios and workshops.

The shell of the building is already constructed and attention is now focused on the square it will overlook - due for completion next spring. It will sit on land previously occupied by a bus station, which has been relocated close to the town centre's Midland Metro stop, improving bus/tram interchange.

The new centre will be rounded off with a massive retail development.

Job creation elsewhere involves the relocation of Kenrick Park Metro station, giving better access to new offices close to the M5. Discussions with West Midlands passenger transport authority Centro are ongoing 'to see how it could be funded. We have to justify it on a transport basis, ' White adds.

'From a sustainability point of view we are trying to encourage people to use other forms of transport rather than the car.' Transport strategy adviser at the West Midlands Regional Assembly Danny Lamb says West Bromwich is already wellconnected, so regeneration could have a significant impact.

'It's near the M5, it's close to Birmingham city centre and it has a Metro stop that takes you to Birmingham in one direction and Wolverhampton in the other.

It could be turned around almost overnight.' Loss of manufacturing jobs has been a huge problem in Birmingham. The closure of the Rover plant at Longbridge cost 6,000 jobs earlier this year. But plans are in place to redevelop the 160ha site as the centre of a new business park.

'The aim is to create 10,000 jobs and we envisage some mixed use development on the site, ' says Birmingham City Council assistant director of development planning David Bull.

A £15M link road from the M42 to Longbridge is in the pipeline.

Regeneration is also taking place in more affluent parts of the West Midlands.

Warwickshire County Council has enjoyed considerable success from its Eliot Park Innovation Centre (EPIC), built on a former landfill site at Nuneaton. This was originally scoffed at, says head of the council's regeneration division, John Scouller. 'We were told that nobody invests in anything high-tech north of the M6.' But £7.2M funding for the project was secured from Advantage West Midlands and Scouller says that demand for space is high.

The project is a flagship for Nuneaton and the West Midlands' aspirations: Its energy efficient design landed EPIC an ICE award - 'It only requires about 50% of the energy normally used for this type of building, ' Scouller says.

This is achieved through a heavy structure, state of the art windows and intelligent lighting as well as innovative use of hollow concrete slabs forming floors and ceilings. These act as thermal stores, allowing warm or cool air to be transferred to offi ce space.

'It's making a statement that we believe Nuneaton can sustain a high specification building, ' Scouller states.

Pockets of deprivation still exist, however. Scouller says that only £10M of the £54M on the table in Coventry, could be allocated for Warwickshire's ambitious Camp Hill project.

When complete, the former mining area will sport new homes, a marina, industrial units and office space. Among the innovations is an Opportunities Centre, which offers training and formal qualifications in construction. One hope of the regeneration team is that residents will acquire skills enabling them to contribute to the physical redevelopment of their own community.

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