Enda Mullen examines how a long-awaited Solihull re-development plan stalled for years but could now finally come to fruition.
One of the longest on-off regeneration projects in the region could be poised to get the go-ahead after more than five years.
Parkgate is an ambitious multi-use scheme to regenerate the commercial heart of Shirley in Solihull, by developers Shirley Advance and was the subject of a planning inquiry which concluded this month.
It consists of an Asda superstore, 28 shops, 27 houses, 23 apartments and 55 retirement flats.
A decision on the proposal is expected within a few weeks and after a long, drawn-out and at times tortuous process, expectation is high that the scheme, which has been the focus of a bitter battle, will finally be given the go-ahead.
David Collingford, the Government inspector who chaired the inquiry expressed his disappointment that 13 years after heading an inquiry to build an Asda supermarket across the road from the site of the proposed development the matter was still being discussed.
He also said that it was up to Solihull Council to prove it was right in refusing the scheme twice in recent months (December 2010 and February 2011) on the grounds of parking arrangements rather than the developers proving the council was wrong.
But the council has found itself between a rock and a hard place as highways and planning officers recommended approval and in principle it supports revitalising Shirley. Added to that the history of Parkgate’s evolution is long and complex.
In the mid-nineties Asda applied to build a supermarket on the former Powergen site at the junction of Stratford Road and Haslucks Green Road.
The proposal was refused by Solihull Council’s planning committee and the decision was endorsed by a public inquiry in 1998.
However, there was agreement across the board that something had to be done about Shirley. It has always played second fiddle to Solihull as the borough’s main retail centre and there were fears for its future.
A proliferation of banks, building societies, thrift stores and charity shops painted a picture of an area that was dying.
Plans for development, originally known as the New Heart for Shirley were drawn up, and from the outset there was a desire to get Asda on board.
The supermarket giant still owned the Powergen site and although its supermarket bid had been turned down, the inspector concluded Asda should be given the opportunity to be part of an alternative plan for the suburb if and when such an opportunity arose.
The development plan hatched involved a new multi-use project across the road from the Powergen site on the plot of a disused Territorial Army centre, part of the retail frontage on the busy Stratford Road and 1.35 acres of Shirley Park.
Opposition from the outset was vociferous, particularly over plans to encroach on the park, and the campaigning group Keep Shirley Alive (KSA) was founded.
There was also concern about the number of supermarkets in the area and opponents said the last thing they needed was another one.
Shirley suffers as a retail centre, being stretched as it is along a two to three-mile stretch of the A34 Stratford Road and certainly has a significant number of supermarkets.
At its boundary with the Birmingham suburb of Hall Green is a Tesco, further along there is an M&S Simply Food store, an Iceland, Aldi, Morrison’s and Sainsbury stores, and if you carry on through Monkspath you will arrive at a Tesco store that might rival a French hypermarket for size.
Those who opposed the scheme also claimed another supermarket would do nothing to help independent traders but sound the death knell for those remaining.