Councillors in Solihull are being asked to endorse a bid to borrow up to £30 million as part of a bold move to keep one of the country’s most ambitious regeneration schemes alive.
The £1.8 billion Regenerating North Solihull project, a 15-year project given the go-ahead in 2004, has already been delayed by five years and has recently been in danger of being blown off course because of the recession.
But a cross-party consensus and a sense of urgency to drive the scheme forward have led to Solihull Council seeking to increase its prudential borrowing limit to £30 million to plug a huge gap in funding.
The move will will mean new village centres at Craig Croft and North Arran Way can go ahead, as can plans to continue with a programme to build new primary schools or remodel existing ones.
The leader of Solihull Council, Councillor Ian Hedley, said though there is agreement on the need to finish the job in hand, he is remaining cautious until the proposal agreed by cabinet is given the green light at a meeting of the full council on Tuesday April 4.
“We decided this was one of our top priorities and we looked at how much money was needed for what we wanted to do,” said the Shirley East Liberal Democrat councillor.
“What we require is for full council to approve a change in our prudential borrowing limit. I am pleased about it but will be delighted after next Tuesday if the council supports us.”
The Regenerating North Solihull scheme set out to transform some of the most deprived wards in the country – Chelmsley Wood, Smith’s Wood and Kingshurst & Fordbridge.
At the outset it pledged to create more than 8,000 new homes, 10 new primary schools and five new village centres, as well as a raft of new community facilities covering everything from healthcare to leisure.
The public-private partnership saw Solihull Council form the Solihull Partnership with Inpartnership Ltd, Whitefriars Housing Group and Bellway Homes. The wards it targeted form a large part of north Solihull, an area ‘‘inherited’’ by Solihull from Birmingham in 1974 when boundaries were redrawn and Solihull became a metropolitan borough.
Regenerating North Solihull was seen as the perfect solution to an undisputed equality gap between the more salubrious south of the borough and the less affluent north.
It was also hailed as a model regeneration scheme for others to follow until the economic downturn threatened to stop it in its tracks.
Explaining how it ran into difficulties Councillor Hedley said: “Basically the economic funding of the whole thing was predicated on land values and selling houses and based on a plan that involved money being generated throughout the cycle to be invested.
“When the economy went down land values went down and selling houses became more difficult. The generation of money was more difficult and we lost some investment money too.”
Councillor Hedley said the prudential borrowing move was endorsed by financial experts at the council who agreed it was “the right thing to do”.
Letting the scheme grind to a halt was never an option, he said, but time was of the essence as the council risked losing further funding streams, in addition to £8.1 million withdrawn by Advantage West Midlands, if it did not act swiftly.
“We felt in order to get the project running as we wou