John Wood DL looks at why Sandwell is the place for investment, planning and regeneration.
For businesses looking to invest in a region, Sandwell has a lot going for it; fantastic connectivity in terms of the road and rail network, and the workforce in this area is hard working, skilled and straightforward. We get higher productivity in our factories in Sandwell than we do anywhere else in the country.
All of these factors make Sandwell a very attractive proposition for businesses of all sizes looking to invest. Often, the stumbling block can be planning – traditionally a process which has a reputation for being very slow and bureaucratic. Happily, I can say from first-hand experience, that in Sandwell this has been a very positive experience, thanks to a planning department which is highly proactive and encouraging.
It’s a welcoming and supportive environment, not a negative and rigid one.
A shortage of land is often another potential barrier to investment, but Sandwell has a clear vision for the future, despite there being very little available land, so they’re trying to free up everything available.
A great example of this is the site opposite our factory in Oldbury; a former Sandwell training facility, the council were very active in trying to find a developer, and when they had several large, local companies interested, their planning department stepped in to help make the best use of this piece of relatively scarce land.
With the council’s help, this has been developed by Steel & Alloy into a new £20m-plus sophisticated manufacturing site supplying steel for the automotive industry.
This is not a one-off example, I am pleased to report. We have several old industrial sites that are no longer viable, have problems with contamination and mine shafts, and we have one in West Bromwich which we have completed on recently with Persimmon. Again, the council has been very proactive in helping Persimmon and us design and choose appropriate buildings for that site, taking into consideration the condition of the land and proportion of affordable housing required.
Council officials moved quickly – they didn’t stay in their ivory towers, they came down in person to discuss it. It’s all done correctly, but in an expedient and positive way.
Another key hurdle alongside the availability of the land is its condition; a lot of the vacant land in this area is contaminated or contains mine shafts, mine gas, Japanese knotweed. Such obstacles can make development slow and costly – especially when it comes to the legal process. We have experience elsewhere in the country where it can take years to navigate this journey.
Sandwell Council officials have been able to help here too, with the likes of the WMCA – Brownfield Land & Property Development Fund, a land remediation grant designed to help businesses test and improve the land they are looking to develop.
If you have any project or any need for extra land or development, then my advice is to go and see Sandwell Council – you will get informed, realistic advice on the opportunity. Opportunity knocks.
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The author is Director – Group Corporate Services at Liberty Engineering Group Pte Limited UK, and a Sandwell Business Ambassador.