Well, this is the news I though I’d never share: 12 years after my first article here about Ravens Court and the then promise of Tesco’s new gold dream that crumbled to dust, it turns out bargain supermarket chain Aldi – who already have a small, 1990s era store in Brownhills – have bought the decaying shopping centre and are planning to build a larger store with more parking.
This is obviously fabulous news and very unexpected.
I had pointed out to anyone who’d listen for a few months now that something was happening. Whatever it was didn’t run to schedule, as Wendoline Morton and Charles Hawtry Street were clearly preparing for a big announcement at election time that never came, and they deleted their dystopian clockwork lemon video filmed in a murky Ravens Court where they pretended manfully they might actually give a shit about us.
Over the interceding months, items have come up on closed session council cabinet agendas relating to strategic purchases and transfer of land, and public right of way across the site was rescinded. So clearly, something was afoot – and as the precinct was boarded up last week, I knew something might be imminent. Here’s the detail – the only verified detail – released yesterday by Walsall Council.
ALDI BUY RAVENSCOURT TO REDEVELOP DERELICT EYESORE
Aldi is bringing forward plans to rejuvenate the High Street in Brownhills by relocating their store to the derelict Ravenscourt shopping precinct.
The discount food retailer has now bought the land and is hoping to submit a planning application before Christmas.
Proposals for a new Aldi food store will bring the area back to life, and with Aldi continuing to trade here, it will outline their commitment to long-term investment and job creation in Brownhills.
A new store will provide a larger retail area (currently 850sqm moving to 1315sqm), with wider aisles and greater availability of products. There will be 100 customer car parking spaces, which is a major increase from 57 on offer at the current store.
Aldi also has a number of sustainability measures to improve the carbon efficiency of new stores, reducing emissions and the need for gas heating, which will go a considerable way to addressing the climate challenge.
Robin Williams, Aldi’s Regional Property Director said:
We are thrilled to be bringing forward our plans for relocating the Brownhills store. We have been working tirelessly alongside Walsall Council Deputy Leader Councillor Adrian Andrew and Council Officers who have been truly supportive in getting us to where we are today.
Our proposals to relocate the store will ensure we can continue providing jobs and investment into the local economy, whilst offering our range of award-winning products to our customers.
By relocating so close, we can continue to serve our dedicated customer base, but ensure the long-term future of the store and preserve our commitment to Brownhills”.
Cllr Adrian Andrew said: “Our administration has pledged to sort out the problem of the derelict Ravenscourt on behalf of the people of Brownhills and by working with the previous owners for many years and more recently Aldi we have had a fantastic outcome. I have to thank the ward Councillors, Wendy Morton MP and Mayor Andy Street for keeping the pressure on and supporting us making progress.
There will of course be a planning application and process that will follow, with the decision made by the planning committee but the purchase of Ravenscourt by Aldi is a game changer for Brownhills, and we thank Aldi for working with us and investing in Brownhills”
Well, that’s a turn I never expected.
This of course raises many questions, but I am wholly in support of this. Why? Do I particularly like Aldi? No. But it’s all we’ve got. Cling to it people. One thing I will say is Aldi don’t mess about: They will have done their research, know what return the want and expect, and will have costed it. Planning will be note-perfect, no doubt.
It’s worth bearing in mind though, the following points.
- We are no further forward than we were in 2009: We are being promised a redevelopment, without (yet) earth being turned. This could yet go tits up.
- We have no plans yet. As soon as some are made public, I will share here and on social media.
- The owners of Ravens Court have played Walsall Council, and the people of Brownhills for idiots for well over a decade. Why? Because lax property law allowed them to. They will be strolling away from this happy, unrepentant for their imposed rule of misery.
Our Members of Parliament – both Richard Shepherd and Wendy Morton – always made sympathetic faces but never actually made any move politically to stop absentee landlords screwing towns and communities like ours over. They just didn’t appear to care enough about the situation to fight to stop it happening.
- Politicians from all over will claim involvement in achieving this. As yet, not much has changed. My suspicion is the real dealing was done by Aldi and council officers. Remember that Adrian Andrew, here credited with achieving the deal, was crowing about what a great deal we all had with Tesco.
If I ever need a negotiator, based on his performance here for years, he’s a way down the queue, frankly.
- There’s the question over the fate of the current Aldi. I’ve seen it said that it will be parking of some sort. But I don’t know. That will require monitoring: Should the store be left, you can guarantee Aldi will not allow it to go for anything in competition with them. That could, long term, be a small issue. But yeah.
- The site is a very weird shape and I can’t see how they are going to overcome the steep front to back gradient (you walk in to Ravens Court off the street, yet there are a lot of steps to the car park at the back). That means there could be an interesting solution like a street level store with a parking undercroft. But that’s just speculation.
- This still has to go through planning: Aldi have bought the land so it is stated, which must mean they’re totally confident of approval, and I cannot realistically see any obstacle in the process, but it will take the statutory amount of time. It’ll be way into 2022 before we see much action.
- Expect Tesco to be crying into their clubcards, and to probably make impotent objecting noises, the brass neck of which will be delicious. Bet they wish they hadn’t pulled out now. We’ll always remember how they stuffed us.
- Aldi, having bought this land is a great positive. If something goes awry, they are not the owners who abandoned us. That in itself is tremendous.
- This must put the proposed Aldi store in Pelsall under some question. The Old Bush site has always been an interesting choice and it’ll be intriguing to see what happens there.
With the Warreners Arms currently being demolished for housing, and Ravens Court looking like history, I’ve never felt more positive about the future of Brownhills High Street, in what is an immensely challenging time for retail.
This is the first time Brownhills has had it’s tail up for years.
I’d like to thank here and now those at the council who have used every power they have as best they can, even though it was like fighting a dragon armed only with a cocktail stick and packet of Kleenex. I’d also like to thank those politicians whom I know to have been caring about this and sincere in their aims, particularly Steve Wade and Steve Craddock.
Stay tuned for more info, but I do look forward to racing to bag my buns and 2000 piece socket set in a bigger, plusher store sometime soon.
Any comment? Please feel free to opine on this post or mail: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com, or even badger me on social media. I reserve the right to edit for legal reasons on this one, of course 😀