As Redditch and the whole country prepares for the UK to leave the EU on the 29th of March 2019, the Borough Conservative Group leader, Matt Dormer, writes exclusively for Rachel Maclean’s Guest Blogs on how Redditch is ready for whatever comes next and the work he and fellow Conservatives have been doing since taking control of the Council in May 2018.

Since I became the leader of Redditch Borough Council last year following our stunning local election results, I have been busy with my team of Councillors on a wide range of matters to kickstart the process of unlocking Redditch and releasing the full potential across our Borough.

In contrast to Brexit, however, there is no need for a backstop, no protracted and complicated negotiations – there’s just an urgent need to roll up our sleeves and get on with the job in a strategic way.

As outlined in a discussion paper authored by Brendan Nevin for North Worcestershire Economic Development and Regeneration (NWEDR) toward the end of 2017, we need a step-change in the way our Borough works with a focus on three main areas:

  1. The commercial offering for business growth
  2. Our town centre offer
  3. Housing growth

The Commercial Offering

The Conservative-led administration on Redditch Borough Council is rising to manage a harsh reality of business in Redditch – we lack the room for proper business growth. We have a number of good businesses based here, and it’s great to see more businesses starting up in our Borough; but the problem comes when these businesses grow and need more space. They sadly tend to leave Redditch for more modern and spacious offerings elsewhere.

The buildings and facilities that we have available at the moment are heading for being 50 years old, making them unattractive to modern businesses who demand good technology infrastructure – and who now value sustainability and energy efficiency far more than 50 years ago. I hear opponents of the Redditch Eastern Gateway say that there are plenty of empty units elsewhere in the town – whilst this is true, these are units that were suitable for the businesses of 30-50 years ago not the businesses of today. We cannot force businesses to take up these units; they have a choice about where to go.

This ‘commercial upgrade’ challenge is not something the Borough Council can tackle alone. My role as leader is to pull in support from the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA), Worcestershire County Council (WCC), and the Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs) that cover our area. This means going and banging the table for Redditch and ensuring we get the support we deserve to help us grow. However, each partner we work with also has challenges of their own that we need to help them with.

The LEPs for instance are currently undergoing a review, meaning that Redditch may be forced to choose whether it remains part of the Greater Birmingham & Solihull LEP or the Worcestershire LEP as part of the review we are no longer allowed to be part of two LEPs. It is important we make the right choice as leaving any LEP will naturally have ramifications for the projects we work on and the funding we get.  This challenge and ensuring the best outcome for Redditch has been taking up a lot of time and focus – it’s important to get it right, even if it’s not the most glamorous side of political life it is very interesting and an honour to represent Redditch in these affairs.

The Eastern Gateway remains vitally important as part of our need to unlock room for business growth in Redditch, however it remains a disappointment that it sits just outside of Redditch’s borders, meaning we don’t get any of the business rates payable, although it is a great comfort to know that Redditch people will be the ones who will mostly be taking the jobs that come online there – as many as 1,000 to 2,000 of them too, which will help boost our local economy.

My team and I continue to work hard to get concessions from the Redditch Eastern Gateway partners and to put in place solutions for residents who may be affected – and we have some successes with this so far by getting the height of buildings reduced, double yellow lines on Far Moor Lane, and planting of hedges and trees to conceal the site as best we can. More is on the way.

With Redditch now becoming part of the Business Rates Retention Pool it is vitally important we keep businesses growing here in Redditch. Normally when we collect business rates we send them straight back to government, but a retention pool allows us and our neighbouring authorities to keep a large slice of this money for ourselves.  The more businesses we have paying rates the more money the council will get, so our incentive is quite clearly to attract new businesses and make room for businesses to grow here in Redditch and not simply move elsewhere.

Our Town Centre Offer

When we Conservatives took control of the Borough Council from Labour in 2018 we knew we had to focus urgently on our town centre. That’s why we have set off a consultation process to pull together data and ideas for how we can invest and improve our town centre to ensure it has the best chance of surviving against a backdrop of a challenging retail environment that is seeing stores up and down the country closing down.

We have a wide range of ideas as a Conservative team, but we believe it’s important to hear from you the public on what you want your town centre to be in the future.

Once the consultation has completed we will be publishing the results and details online and in public in our town centre so that everyone has a chance to feed into the process and have their say in what we call a ‘state of the area debate’ – a conversation the council will have with its residents on how we move forwards. I hope to make announcements on this and reveal progress in March.

Ideas that are currently on the table include:

  • The development of a community services hub in the town centre – relocating a range of public services into one place that means unlocking savings for you the taxpayer and potentially providing community groups with a place to interact with local residents.
  • Development of leisure facilities in the town centre so there are more things for you to see and do when you come into Redditch in partnership with Rubicon Leisure that we as a council fully own.
  • Building of residential accommodation across Redditch and especially in the town centre to help boost its vibrancy and unlock housing choices for our residents. For the first time since the 1990s the Borough Council is building new council houses after years of Labour’s failure to build a single one.
  • We also want to see massive improvements to the area around our train station and Unicorn Hill and I hope to bring forward plans around this soon.

But I would like to hear from you about your ideas. Why not take a short survey on the Redditch Conservatives’ website to let us know what you think?

Housing Growth

As a Borough Council who still owns its own council houses we are working hard to put right the mistakes of the past and bring our housing service up-to-date and turn it into a service that our tenants and the council can be proud of. We have had a tough time, and since taking control of the council we have had to clean up a lot of serious mess in this department that is simply not good enough. We are making huge strides in this area and improvements are coming online fast, and we continue to work hard.

Beyond council housing, there is a need for more housing in general across Redditch so that young people have a chance to get onto the property ladder and so that other properties can be freed up. For instance, we have a real shortage of bungalows in Redditch, meaning as people get old they are faced with having to stay in their 2/3 bedroom house because they cannot find a bungalow in the local area to move into instead – and as a result that 2/3 bedroom cannot pass along to a young family looking to get ahead.

Therefore, for the first time since the 1990s the council is going to build more properties. It is a massive shame that the Labour Party whilst in control of the council did not build a single council home since the 1990s, but it is something the Conservatives will put right – along with many other things left over by the Labour Party such as their £777,000 black hole in the budget that we’ve had to work hard to fill.

By providing more housing choice we will enable Redditch to grow again after years of stagnant population growth. As we expand we will need to upgrade our infrastructure on the way – and that is a case I am always pressing with Rachel Maclean MP who in turn does a spectacular job of pressing ministers and government departments on our behalf. We are very lucky to have a hard-working Member of Parliament in Redditch who is constantly pressing our case – and constantly mentioning us in the House of Commons. I don’t think I’ve heard Redditch mentioned so much in debates.

So make sure you continue to support the Conservatives as we unlock Redditch

Your support over the past 8 months – and before – has been invaluable to me and my team on the council. We are delighted at how residents are engaging with us over social media, email or talking to us on the doorsteps as we go canvassing. You are telling us your ideas and you’re listening to ours. We are truly lucky to serve you and I hope that together we can continue this journey to unlock Redditch together.

Cllr Matt Dormer
Leader, Redditch Borough Council & Redditch Conservative Group
matt.dormer@redditchconservatives.org.uk

Please note: Guest blogs are written by invited authors – the views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Rachel Maclean MP. If you would like to be considered for a future guest blog please email rachel.maclean.mp@parliament.uk.