Funding for infrastructure, land regeneration and job training schemes to help drive the region’s post Covid-19 economic recovery and fight climate change has been set out in this year’s West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) budget.
A package of major transport projects to tackle air pollution and better connect people to jobs, education and training opportunities are included in a 2022/23 WMCA budget totalling £879.2m.
Money is also allocated to transform even more derelict industrial sites for new homes and jobs, helping to relieve pressure on the green belt.
The Budget, which was approved by the WMCA Board, includes an Adult Education Budget (AEB) of more than £140m to give people the skills they need to get back into work quickly and secure jobs in growing sectors such as construction, digital and the emerging green industries. For the fifth year running the budget will not include a mayoral precept on people’s Council Tax bills.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, said: “We had been the fastest growing region outside London before Covid struck, but there’s no escaping the fact that the pandemic has hit our local economy, and people’s pockets, hard. That’s why the most important part of this year’s budget is the lack of a Mayoral precept for the fifth year running, as we continue to do what we can to keep people’s bills low – especially at a time when the cost of living is a concern for many.
“At the heart of our budget is a focus on helping the West Midlands recover in a way that creates tens of thousands of new jobs, especially in the green industries of the future, and gives people the skills they need to fill those jobs. The budget also supports the on-going expansion and decarbonisation of our public transport network with new Metro and rail lines, pollution free buses and more cycle routes, helping us realise our #WM2041 ambition to become a net zero region within the next 20 years.
“But with a growing population we also need more homes and commercial premises, which is why we have allocated nearly £90m for housing and land projects including the regeneration of derelict brownfield sites, helping to save precious green belt fields from the bulldozer. All the investments set out in this budget will help create and protect jobs as we recover from the pandemic and support our ongoing fight against climate change.”
The approved capital budget includes £379m for the WMCA’s transport arm - Transport for West Midlands (TfWM) - to deliver schemes that will improve connectivity, drive economic growth and cut carbon emissions by making it easier and more attractive for people to switch to public transport. This includes:
· The on-going construction of the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill and Birmingham Eastside Metro tram extensions
· The construction of Sprint rapid bus routes along the A34 and A45
· A new bus and Metro interchange station in Dudley town centre
· Coventry All Electric Bus City project
· Transport enhancements for the Commonwealth Games
· £11m investment in new cycle routes and projects
In addition, the £143m Transport revenue budget will deliver £59m for concessionary travel for older people, the blind, disabled and children plus, £18.7m for Commonwealth Games delivery, £13.4m available for subsidised bus services and £6.7m for Accessible Transport. Money committed for housing and land projects will be targeted on supporting the WMCA’s nationally leading brownfield regeneration programme to unlock and redevelop even more derelict urban land and help safeguard the green belt.
Investments will accelerate the construction on brownfield land of energy efficient, affordable new homes and modern commercial premises for businesses to grow and create jobs. There will also be support for the regeneration of town centres and for the research and development of modern methods of construction and zero carbon homes. Key brownfield housing schemes include:
· 252 homes on the former Caparo steel works at Walsall
· The construction of further homes using cutting edge construction technology on derelict land at Icknield Port Loop in Edgbaston
· New homes as part of the £82m Portersfield redevelopment of Dudley town centre
· 71 new homes on the former Cookley Works steel factory in Brierley Hill
Neary £66m in capital grants will be allocated to local authorities to help fund major infrastructure projects with significant investment in Coventry city centre including completion of the rail station, the UK Central development around the airport and NEC in Solihull and for the staging of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. Around £148m of skills funding, including the AEB budget, will be used by the WMCA’s productivity and skills team, working closely with local authorities, to fund training courses that give people the opportunity to upskill and get back into work, with more training matched to those industries suffering skills shortages, including higher level skills.
Councillor Bob Sleigh, Deputy Mayor and WMCA portfolio holder for finance, said: “There is significant funding in this budget to help us recapture our pre-Covid success and build an economy that supports our environmental targets while focussing on innovation and new green technologies.
“But with the region’s population expected to rise by more than 500,000 people over the next 20 years we also need to put in place the building blocks we will need to meet continuing demand for new, quality homes, services and jobs. We believe this budget will help the region meet those future challenges.”