Ian Shires

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Willenhall North Ward, Liberal Democrat Group Leader, Walsall MBC Learn more

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Time is right for a Willenhall Area Action Plan say Lib Dems

by Ian Shires on 4 August, 2018

As a “make over” is about to commence on Willenhall Town Centre we need to demand better for our area. The time is right to put Willenhall on the map. 

Back in 2006, in March of that year to be precise, Walsall Council’s Cabinet approved work on the Willenhall Strategic Regeneration Framework (SRF). In January of 2008 Cabinet prioritised the Willenhall SRF for completion as an Area Action Plan (AAP) which is really just a posh name for a planning and regeneration plan for the area.

In September of 2008 consultants were appointed to undertake the work of preparing the Willenhall AAP and in October 2008 an initial consultation with those who had an interest in the project.

A series of workshops were held in March 2009 in order to agree a vision and objectives for the AAP. The outcome of this work was “Willenhall The Plan, The Vision”, which set out the evidence that had been gathered, the vision which had come from that evidence and laid out how it might be delivered.

In May 2009 is was ready to go out for some serious public consultation. That’s as far as it got. In 2010 it was quietly dropped by the Conservative administration of the day. It was felt that it would take up too many resources to deliver.

Time has moved on and Willenhall town centre has, like many other town centres, suffered from competition first from “Out of Town” shopping centres and more recently from “On -Line” shopping.

Just over two years ago, following the local elections of May 2006, Walsall Council found itself, not for the first time, with no one political party having a working majority. What was different back then was for the first time ever Liberal Democrats on the Council formed an Alliance with Labour.

This heralded in a much needed change in approach. Both Groups on the Council agreed to produce a four year budget to give confidence to business and residents to enable them to make plans for the medium to long term instead of trying to make the books balance on a year on year basis under the Tories with no long term plan to deal with austerity cuts to local council’s from their own party in power at Westminster.

The alliance between Labour and the Lib Dems also saw the bringing together of services provided by Children’s Services and Adult Social Care with their counterparts in the NHS and the Police and Fire Service, devolving power and decision making to four new Partnership Panels along with their Strategic Boards covering the North, South East and West of the borough. Willenhall lies in the West Locality along with Darlaston and Bentley. These came on stream in May this year.

At the same time the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) was beginning to find its feet as Leaders from the seven Metropolitan Councils hammered out the strategic plans to revive the West Midlands economy.

Out of this work over the past two years Willenhall has figured in a number of different arenas not least of all in that the dream of getting a train station back in the heart of the town will become a reality as transport plans come into force.

Ahead of that it’s important to make sure that we take full advantage of the opportunities that will unfold as the West Midlands economy expands. Willenhall sits in the Walsall to Wolverhampton regeneration corridor identified in the WMCA Housing and Land Delivery plans.

There has never been a better time for Willenhall to have its own Area Action Plan. Much of the work has already been done in the lead up to “Willenhall The Plan, The Vision” before the Tories consigned it to gather dust in the archives back in 2010. All the ducks are in line, it would be criminal to let dogma stand in the way of a brighter future for Willenhall from which we can all benefit.

(The “make over” about to begin on Willenhall town centre was agreed before the Tories took control of the council in May)

 

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