On October 21, 2019, a huge swath of former industrial land in Sandwell, England began its transformation into much-needed housing after lying derelict for decades.
The equivalent of more than 32 football pitches at Friar Park in Wednesbury will be transformed into a 750-home community following the purchase of an old sewage works by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA).
The former works, which has been bought from Midlands Land Portfolio Ltd. (MLPL), the property development arm of Severn Trent plc, covers just under half the overall 26.4 hectare (66 acres) site, with the remaining majority of the site owned by Sandwell Council.
The deal, a joint venture between Sandwell Council and WMCA, unlocks the largest brownfield housing site in the region, helping to reduce pressure on the green belt.
The WMCA, of which Sandwell is a member, will fund a major clean-up of the land, which has been home to a hospital and iron foundry in the past. The WMCA will then work with the council on an ambitious masterplan for the site, with full community consultation, before bringing on board development partners.
Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, negotiated a housing deal with Government that has made cash available for regeneration of brownfield land across the region, including this project at Friar Park. He said, “This prominent site, one of the biggest in the Black Country, has sat derelict for more than 30 years with no developer taking it on. It cannot be right that our green belt is being targeted for new homes while major sites like this are left untouched year after year. The WMCA is embarking on a ‘brownfield first’ policy for this exact reason, and I am delighted that we have been able to strike this latest deal alongside Sandwell Council and Seven Trent.”
“Together, thanks to this landmark deal, we can ease the pressure on greenbelt land whilst also delivering good quality homes for local people,” he added.
The purchase of the land from MLPL, who were represented by their development partner, Northern Trust in negotiating and finalizing the disposal, is a major boost for the WMCA’s brownfield first policy as the region looks to deliver its goal of an additional 215,000 homes by 2031.
Sandwell Council, which is the third largest authority in the West Midlands, needs to build 13,420 homes by 2026.
Sandwell Council Leader Councillor Yvonne Davies said, “The Friar Park deal will see the combined authority and Sandwell Council working together to secure new homes that are of a high design quality, energy efficient and affordable. There will also be provision for homes built using modular construction techniques.”
“The scheme will also include on-site apprenticeships and training for local people so they can learn the construction skills needed to build the new homes. This supports a key priority of the Sandwell Inclusive Economy Deal. We are proud as an authority to be providing a national exemplar of partnership working to drive forward growth and opportunity in our borough,” she continued.
The Friar Park deal is the latest example of one of the key objectives the WMCA was set up to do – intervene where the housing market was not delivering and negotiate to unlock stalled sites.
The authority has a multi-million pound war chest to transform brownfield sites into new housing and commercial developments to drive economic growth that all communities can feel and benefit from.
Councillor Mike Bird, the WMCAs portfolio holder for housing and land and leader of Walsall Council, said, “The WMCA has set aside hundreds of millions of pounds to help get stalled developments like this one off the ground. Sitting back is not the answer. We have to act and intervene to make things happen and I’m delighted that we are doing so in spades.”
“Friar Park is the biggest residential, brownfield site we have unlocked so far and a flagship example of the nation-leading work of this region in the regeneration of derelict industrial land. It is a significant boost for our brownfield first policy which I am passionately committed to as we seek to meet future housing demand while protecting our environment. We will now work with Sandwell Council to bring forward a scheme that all can be proud of and will start creating new homes and jobs from next year,” Bird concluded.
Julie Rossiter, head of property development for Severn Trent, added, “This is a great example of public and private sectors working together for the communities they serve and we are really pleased to be using our redundant land assets to provide much-needed new homes to the region.”
Photo courtesy of Sandwell Council.