Pity the poor landlord

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.

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Looks like we’re stuck with it.

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.

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Grim as hell, and it’s going nowhere.

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.

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I remember the Town Centre Partnership were going to sort this out…

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.

Please do read the Advertiser article. I’d be interested in reader comments.

We are, as they say, right up shit creek.

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Click on the screen shot to read the story at the Walsall Advertiser site.

This entry was posted in Brownhills stuff, Environment, Express & Star, Followups, Interesting photos, It makes me mad!, Just plain daft, Local media, Local politics, News, Panoramio photo discussions, planning, Shared media, Spotted whilst browsing the web, Walsall community, Walsall Council and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Pity the poor landlord

  1. Neil Le-Moine says:

    This is a collective failure of all the parties concerned. The council for not being able to coordinate all the parties involved and using their powers in the correct manner to bring the original plan to fruition. Tesco for effectively leaving the town in a derelict state and offering no real solution. The owners of Ravens Court for not entering into any negotiation with the council on a way forward. All the parties concerned have a social and morale duty to ensure that something is done to regenerate the high street and surrounding areas. Brownhills not only needs a new high street but a new road infrastructure and road safety improvements highlighted by the dreadfull incidents that have ocured in recent weeks. Until these parties are held to account for their actions to date nothing will happen. I suggest a starting point would be the local MP for the area and getting local people to write to them to complain about the state of the area in general. Shop elsewhere than Tesco Brownhills to demonstrate to Tesco that people are unhappy , “profit talks at Tesco”. As for Raven Court owners let them have their £100 a day fine, what a joke. But how much do the people of Brownhills care? I suppose we shall see , I hope they do because the only way to get change is to campaign for it.

    • Hi

      Please explain any legal framework that exists whereby the council could force Tesco to start a development. You talk of ‘using their legal powers in the correct manner’ – exactly what are these powers?

      I think you’ll be quite surprised to find the council have none.

      A section 215 notice and fine is about the limit of the council’s power. Moral duty? Since when have commercial entities like landlords and developers demonstrated that?

      I think you’ll find that many people have constantly written to the council, and MP, Yet without the huge sum of mony this would take being fronted by a developer, we have no chance.

      The sad fact is, after years of deregulation, councils are now pretty much the servants of commercial developers, and the people who own Ravens Court are clearly happy to mark it down against tax or as an asset against further borrowing.

      As I have pointed out repeatedly, the amount of undeveloped, held land purely to prevent competing developments across the country shows the farce that is planning. And it’s just about to be neutered further.

      As I said, no easy solution.

      Cheers
      Bob

  2. Edwina. says:

    Basically – another load of clap trap for Brownhills folk, Aldridge managed to bring their town centre up to look pretty decent and by the way don’t we all pay the same amount in rates? I know we get very little for the amount we pay. No police to speak of, road sweepers twice a year possibly, bins emptied weekly that’s about it. The only saving grace for this area is Chasewater and that is nothing to do with Walsall thankfully, it was derelict under their care for years, but look at it now, perhaps time to hand over the Lichfield eh?

    • Hi Edwina.

      Anchor Parade in Aldridge is privately owned, too. Nothing to do with the council.

      We do get regular street sweeping – I see the haps out most mornings.

      Cheers
      Bob

    • stymaster says:

      Aldridge iis a much more affluent town than Brownhills, in general, as evidenced by the number of restaurants (I’ve seen it described as “the restaurant quarter of Walsall”) and fewer empty shops. Greater affluence, so more money to spend, so more rental income for the owners of the shopping centre, so they will invest.

  3. Chris says:

    Hi Bob,

    Aldi needs a good size car park, they should buy the land as I often see car’s pulling off their car par park as there are no spaces and so they must be losing lot’s of trade. People have started parking in the underpass anyway and on Wilko’s car park. I know a car park does’nt look too good, but it’s better than doing nothing.

    Chris.

  4. Neil Le-Moine says:

    Bob
    Sometimes it is not about legal power but the power of lobby. Big business spends millions of pounds researching and trying to sway opinion. If they did not care what you thought they would soon disappear from the high street. Remember Ratners?

    I am sure that people write to many of the parties concerned. I am one of them. But to make people listen you have to shout loud and one joined up approach is better than individual opinions. People do listen!

    Hope this clarifies my thoughts
    Neil

    • Hi Neil

      Yes, sure. I’ve been lobbying on this for 5 years. I welcome any action.

      You did specifically state that the council should employ their legal powers. They just have, to pretty much their full extent.

      I think it’s important in this that to fight the problem, people understand where it actually lies. We can rail at the council until we’re blue in the face. But they have little control, as is painfully evident, not just in Walsall but across the country. (In Wolverhampton, a similar devolpment has just stalled).

      The problem in lobbying Tesco is that if you can persuade people locally to boycott it, most of the trade comes from outside town.

      I’m not being negative. I just think we need to understand what’s possible and how it can be practically done. How many folk moaning about the ecline of the High Street actually use the shops there?

      Cheers
      Bob

  5. Neil Le-Moine says:

    Bob
    I commend you for your efforts and appreciate this site as it does give the people of Brownhills a voice. I am sure that those who have a vested interest in Brownhills will be watching your site.

    Sometimes you have to start with small baby steps to achieve giant strides!!

    I would like to state that I have not used the word legal in my first comment but you may have interpreted as being that.

    All the best and keep up the good work

    Neil

    • Neil

      Thanks. I’m trying desperately hard to help people understand that these things aren’t always about the Council. I’m no supporter, and they’ve done many, many daft things in Brownhills, but blaming them for this is as senseless as talking to the taxman about poetry.

      Any ‘power’ that isn’t legal is laughed at by large corporations. IN Dorridge, it’s Sainsburys, and the saga is well written about elsewhere. Michael Moore has done great work on Walmart in the US. What we’re seeing is what happens when we put too much faith in the moral conscience of large companies.

      At least we’re not in the situation of many towns, where swathes of land are held undeveloped by supermarkets to prevent competitive development.

      It’s a difficult situation. I have no answers. BNut we do need to increase footfall and at least WHG and others have started building and planning homes here again. That can only be good, and deserves our support.
      Chers
      Bob

  6. sabcat says:

    It was the council that mishandled the market which was in its heyday a big draw two days a week and the rest of the town benefited from the footfall. If that still existed I think that the High Street and Ravens Court would be in a different state.

    • peter says:

      Hi how you doing? The problem with the market in it’s last days was that it was little more than a front for illegal goods, I suspect that there had always been some illegal activity but if you remember the police were down there most weeks assisting trading standards and emptying stalls of all the dodgy CD’s and “designer” clothes labels, there were genuinely good guys down there trying to make an honest living but no more could a “blind eye” be turned away. Not sure the Council were the ones to wholly blame for the downfall of the market, people got wise to the shoddy and fake goods and the copied CD’s etc, why pay good money for crap?
      All the best

      Peter

  7. Clive says:

    Hello Bob, theres something going on at the old site of Brownhills market, they have drilled and fitted well sampling points over this location!

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