Five years ago, when I started this blog, one of the largest looming topics was that of the then proposed new Tesco Store in Brownhills. We’d been through a consultation, and the proposal was to build a large hypermarket fronting the High Street. The plan was ambitious; we were sold the model of restaurants, new shop units, new road system and even new housing. On paper it was impressive, and everyone in authority was supportive.
All this meant the demolition of the ageing, ugly and loathed Ravens Court Shopping precinct. Everyone, it seemed, would be a winner.
Sadly it seems the retail giant had a change of heart. A year or so passed, and a different, much scaled down design was applied for and granted permission. This involved little community improvement, a mere three shop units to fill a gap where Ravens Court would have been, and scaled back community facilities.
This wasn’t a great plan to me, but it was better than nothing. It was all we were likely to get, after all…
Promised vague start dates were passed by without action, and eventually the news became official that everyone pretty much knew – that Tesco, having led the town, village elders and Council up the garden path, were not going to build anew after all. They decided all the patrons of the current Brownhills store were worth was a half hearted ‘refresh’ – a lick of paint and some turd polishing.
This decision had long-reaching effects; Walsall Council were depending on the development to drive regeneration investment in Brownhills, and this decision by Tesco – completely out of the Council’s control – removed any prospect of large scale investment. It set the whole course of Brownhills ‘regeneration’, such as it was, backwards a decade or more.
I wrote about the fate of Ravens Court, and planning, and the whole death of the town centre thing last summer. I suggest interested readers take a look if you’re not familiar with it. I believe that we can’t hold Walsall Council responsible for what happened to Brownhills, as it was at the mercy of the commercial sector in the form of a large supermarket.
This has reared it’s head again in the last week or so. Ravens Court has, of course, continued to rot. Now almost completely empty, it’s a sad testament to regeneration failure, it’s shops shuttered, flats boarded up and anything of any value stolen. As a privately owned development, Walsall Council have very little power to do anything with it, or compel the owners to act.
The authority has issued a Section 215 notice, which is about the limit of their practical power. This forces the landlords to clean up the site, and make it secure, but no more. I suspect this to be complicated in itself, as several units seem to be owned by different entities – for instance, the one on the corner of the square next to the old Natwest Bank, is currently for sale.
I draw this to your attention as there is an interesting report in the Walsall Advertiser this week about the 215 notice, and the meeting at which it was agreed. Labour Councillor Steve Wade said what just about everyone is thinking – that the sooner something is done, the better – but in the realisation that the options and outcome are limited. This is real rock and hard place stuff.
What did gall however, is that Mike ‘Blofeld’ Bird, Conservative leader of Walsall Council reserved his sympathies not for the town of Brownhills – with a population approaching 13,000 and apparently stuck with a derelict, dysfunctional town centre – but for the landlords of Ravens Court who’d gone from the prospect of having their white elephant purchased for redevelopment to being stuck with it. It’s always nice to see Mike’s human side come out.
Apparently, the dereliction and lack of upkeep to a property a landlord owns isn’t their fault. What?
Let’s be clear – there is no development plan for Ravens Court, or retail in Brownhills in general. Meetings will be held, waffle will be spouted. Nobody wants Ravens Court, least of all the people who own it. I’d wager they’re praying for a compulsory purchase.
Those rumours being spread by people in positions of local power? Talk about Morrisons or other developments happening there, or in the former Blockbusters store? Absolute rubbish to appease the concerned. They aren’t happening, either (and Asda aren’t moving into the old Focus store on Northgate for those spreading that rumour).
It’s hard to see what could be done with Ravens Court anyway; as a separate development, it’s quite a small patch of land that’s narrow, and any parking access would be off Tesco-owned land. This problem seems intractable.
We are, as they say, right up shit creek.