Recently, there has been some debate locally about reclamation of former industrial sites, and the role of developers and local government. In all the cant and bluster, it’s often lost that most of these projects are hugely successful and take an awful lot of work. Andy Dennis, reader and long time contributor to the Brownhills Blog, was for many years a council officer at Walsall involved with regeneration and town planning. Several months ago, Andy offered to write a piece on how the Reedswood site, in North Walsall, was redeveloped.
Sadly, due to time pressures, that piece has sat in my mailbox for eight weeks waiting for me to compile a post, for which I heartily apologise to Andy. Keeping this blog running sometimes is a challenge, and long involved posts often get neglected for a while. Again, my apologies.
Reedswood was the site of Walsall’s very own power station. Wedged into land between Birchills, Reedsword Park and The Beechdale, it generated electricity for about 70 years over the course of two separate stations. Wikipedia has this to say on the station’s history:
The first power station on the site was built for Walsall Corporation. Work began in 1914, and electricity was being generated by 1916, although the project was not officially completed until 1922. Cooling water was supplied by a pumping station on the Anson Branch canal, equipped with two Mather and Platt pumps capable of delivering 10.6 million gallons (48 Megalitres) per day. Spent water was discharged into the Wyrley and Essington Canal. Ownership of the station passed to the West Midlands Joint Electricity Authority in 1927, and then to the British Electricity Authority following nationalisation in 1948.
Construction of a second station, Walsall B, began soon after nationalisation. The station was officially opened on 30 September 1949. Comprising six cooling towers and six chimneys, the station burned ‘slack’ coal, which consisted of fragments of coal and coal dust. Coal was delivered by road, rail and canal. Water from the canal was used for cooling. The station closed in October 1982 after 33 years in use, and the stub of railway serving it was closed at the same time. The power station was closed as it was no longer deemed to be efficient.
It stood dormant for nearly five years afterwards, finally being demolished in March 1987.
Andy has written a fascinating piece which I welcome, and I encourage him, as I hope readers will too, to write about the reclamation itself. I promise not to leave that one in the inbox for eight weeks maturing…
It’s good to get the opposite side of things out into the public domain, and whilst developers and commercial interests are often seen as the villains – I’ve not been happy with Parkhill Reclamation over a number of things, mainly the Ryders Mere development proposals – one cannot deny the success of the Reedswood project and the necessity in the current climate to involve such companies in large reclamation projects.
As promised, a few words about Reedswood. It seems rather superficial to me, but when you are inside the wood the trees can be hard to see! I’ve had a go at something about the reclamation and development phases, but it’s not yet ready for sharing. What follows is all public knowledge. There may be some minor inaccuracies arising from the normal human frailties and using round numbers, for which I apologise, but I’m sure there is nothing spectacularly wrong.
These are simply recollections of a former Council officer who was heavily involved. I make no claim to speak for anyone but myself.
In the early 1990s, the Government allocated around £1 billion towards a programme of regeneration schemes labelled City Challenge. Councils in the major urban areas were invited to form local partnerships and bid for a share. These “beauty contests” never seemed to me a fair approach, not least because of the heavy investment of time and money made by the losers, but at least in this case Walsall was one of 20 successful applicants in Round 2. The 20 were chosen to show that many types of deprivation could be tackled by the ability of these local partnerships to create imaginative plans quickly.
The key advantage, however, was simply that funding was guaranteed for 5 years and could support even longer running projects. Walsall had previously done relatively well out of Derelict Land Grant, but, as I recall, the risk in embarking on more difficult projects was that obtaining grant for year 1 was no guarantee that funding would continue for subsequent years. This led to projects being abandoned after after 1 year of a 3 year programme. Derelict land reclamation is often a time consuming and expensive business! Reedswood would take 28 months and cost about £15 million.
Briefly, the City Challenge bid required bringing together people who had never worked together, including some previously unknown, appoint people to oversee the bid process, and in about 6 or 7 months draw up a fully costed business case to spend in the next 5 years more than £150 million on a diverse range of regeneration projects. In addition, the winners would be announced in February with work to commence in April 1993. None of Walsall’s team had done anything like this before.
The basics of City Challenge were that the Government would provide £7.5 million per year for 5 years to contribute to projects that would make a major difference to an area, attract private sector investment, create jobs, and establish working relationships that would continue into the future. Together with other projects this led to well above £50 million public funding coming Walsall’s way.
The overall bid had to be for one area, not scattered all over the borough. The obvious targets were derelict sites at Pleck Gasworks (heavy metal contamination), Town Wharf (abandoned limestone workings) and Reedswood (derelict power station site). The bid was designed around these 3 “flagship” schemes with the canal as a spine. There was never any prospect of these sites being redeveloped by private enterprise alone.
Seeing an opportunity, Parkhill Estates Ltd (PEL) purchased the derelict Reedswood Power station site and sometime in 1992 came to discuss with Council officers, including me, the future development of the site. The power station site itself was about 32 hectares (80 acres), heavily contaminated and riddled with old mine shafts, which would have to be dealt with up front. The clean up cost was estimated at about £12 million. Another hazard was that local yobs were setting fire to the high voltage cables and causing power cuts – even Brownhills was blacked out once.
To get a feel for the scale of funding that might be needed we divided the site into retail (to reflect the fact of a planning permission), housing and business with the remainder for a spine road and metro line. After estimating the likely sale value of finished development, costs and profit assumption, we concluded there would be a shortfall of about £8 million. In other words the developer would make a massive loss without financial assistance. We discussed this with PEL and they did some detailed cash flow calculations and arrived at a similar number. This was for an expanded scheme to include some open space owned by the Council and known as “The Bayou” (presumably not the inspiration for Roy Orbison’s song!), a bit of Reedswood Park and a new access and extension for Barton Engineering (to relieve Miner Street), mainly to make the reclamation more economical, but it did extend the range of benefits. The reclaimed open spaces were later returned to the Council. This larger project (now 50 hectares) was included in the successful bid to the Government.
Walsall’s bid succeeded. The Reedswood project was supported by £8 million Government funds made up of £5.75 million grant and £2.25 million loan. The overall investment was expected to exceed £50 million. Work in earnest began in October 1993.
That’s probably enough for now. Obviously, the outcome is there for all to see, either in real life or virtually – search for Reedswood Way, Walsall WS2 8XA.