I was intrigued last week to spot a Walsall Housing Group press release floating about the net, excitedly heralding the news that work was ‘already underway’ on a new housing development opposite Knaves Court in Brownhills. Readers with long memories will recognise this development as being the one I’ve addressed twice before: In this May 2009 post, in which I welcome a prospective development of 73 new dwellings, ‘all of which will be affordable rented accommodation’, and in a subsequent post of April, 2010, where the applicants slyly change the ownership plan to 49 affordable social rent, 12 shared ownership and 12 for outright private sale. To make this change, an appeal against a condition of the original planning application was successfully made.
I had been idling wondering what became of this project, when out of the blue, this press release appeared.
A multi-million pound canalside development will transform prime land at the gateway to a West Midlands’ town on the cusp of a renaissance.
The £4.2million Walsall Housing Group (whg) development will drive the regeneration of Brownhills and set the standard for future homes in the area. Work has now begun on site and the first apartments will be available in May 2012.
The cosmopolitan scheme of 47 two bedroom apartments, landscaping and a gated car park for residents has been designed to take advantage of views over Wyrley and Essington Canal, which runs alongside the site in High Street.
Funded and supported by by whg, Walsall Council and the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA), it will complete the gateway into the town, standing opposite newly opened Knaves Court, an older person extra care scheme.
Architect Walker Troup has planned the modern apartments to sit in intimate clusters to promote community spirit among neighbours.
Carole Wildman, whg’s Director of Regeneration and Development, said: “This is a gateway development, with an exciting design which cleverly compliments the surroundings and makes a bold statement too. Artist impressions show it will be a significant building, with a definite street presence. It’s sure to become a local landmark.”
Councillor Adrian Andrew, Walsall Council Deputy Leader and cabinet member for regeneration, said: “This is brilliant news. We’ve helped get this development to where it is now and have put in a £160,000 grant to make it happen. We’ve put our money on the table to make it work too.”
Councillor Alan Paul, Walsall Council lead member for whg in Aldridge and Brownhills, said he warmly welcomed the plan, backed by the Brownhills project reference group which is made up of council officers, elected members and residents.
He added: “It’s much needed and something I’ve been working towards for many years.”
Contractor Mansell Construction Services Ltd will use local skills and labour to support the borough economy and offer training opportunities in construction.
The development will be the first visible result of much work behind the scenes by whg, the council and the HCA, the national housing and regeneration agency for England, to rejuvenate the former mining town. The homes form part of an ambitious masterplan to regenerate the area, with new housing at the forefront of the blueprint.
Assad Hamed, investment and regeneration manager for the HCA, said: “I am thrilled that our funding is enabling these much-needed new homes to be delivered for the local community. Our investment of £432,000 into this scheme compliments our £12m investment into Knaves Court opposite, creating a real sense of place for the people of Brownhills.”
There will be a range of tenure options available in order to appeal to a wide audience of potential residents. A dozen apartments will be available to buy and the remaining 35 will be for affordable rent through whg’s choice based lettings system, choose & move. Of those, 24 will be let at social rent level and the remaining 11 will be for market rent and be part-furnished, including carpets, curtains and some white goods.
Four ground floor properties have been specifically designed to accommodate people with a disability. To ensure the homes meet the specific needs of the eventual residents, whg and Walsall Council will identify them early and work with them to help individually tailor their flats.
It would now appear that the ballgame has changed completely. From 73 dwellings, we’re now down to 47 total, 35 will be affordable social rent, and 11 be market rent. I’m intrigued as to how that will work in practice.
Since the last planning application for the site, relating to sewage and other technical issues (10/0812/DOC, June 2010) still lists 73 dwellings on it’s application form, so something odd must be afoot. Looking at the fascinating site technical drawing submitted with that application, all the flats appear to be on the southern end of the development. One therefore must conclude that, for the scheme to still comply with the submitted plans, WHG are to build only that half of the original development at this point. This is corroborated by the choice of image used to illustrate the press release, and accent on the canal side aspect – the canal facing side of the side is a small fraction of the overall perimeter, at the southernmost point.
I’d also point out that as of last weekend (19th-20th March 2011) there was no sign of any construction work whatsoever. Are somebody’s pants on fire at Walsall Housing Group by any chance?
Once again, it would appear that Brownhills is being sold short. Continually promised big new developments, over and over again, the agencies we rely on for our regeneration and redevelopment fail to deliver. It’s sadly indicative that the usual tired faces are wheeled out by the council, eager to herald a new dawn, yet failing to mention the reduced nature of the scheme. Do they think we’ve all got short memories?
The saddest part is that I’m not surprised anymore.