Many if not most towns have regeneration schemes of different magnitudes but Dudley, in the West Midlands, has managed to push the cost of its plans over £1bn. Here we will look at what is planned together with what is happening.
First a quick look at Dudley. Like many towns in the Midlands, Dudley boomed during the Industrial Revolution, as it is at the heart of what is known as the Black Country. The traditional industries of coal, iron and steel are now long gone. However, Dudley still has an economy grounded in manufacturing and engineering alongside more recent industries in the service sector.
It is fair to say that Dudley currently has a fairly low profile. Birmingham, which is just nine miles to the east, and even the relatively new city of Wolverhampton (achieved city status in 2000) to the north, tend to get more exposure. However, Dudley is a sizable place with a borough population of around 313,000, a workforce of 112,000 and 10,000 businesses. Dudley is also very centrally located in England and strategically well connected by road via the M5 and M6.
Recent regeneration has been fairly modest in comparison to the latest plan. There have been moves to capitalise on the area’s industrial heritage and develop it as a visitor attraction. The development of the large Merry Hill shopping mall from the late 1980s onwards established retailing as a major industry in the area but has impacted Dudley town centre itself. The DY5 Dudley Business and Innovation Enterprise Zone was launched in 2017 as a high tech. office hub.
The £1bn regeneration programme involves 10 principal regeneration projects including transport, education, innovation, leisure and residential, aimed at bringing jobs, housing and business investment to the town. Several of the schemes are already underway with anticipated completion between 2021 and 2024.
Infrastructure is, of course, often thought of as the key to unlocking regeneration. In this regard the Wednesbury to Brierley Hill tram line extension will extend the already established and successful West Midlands Metro tram network. The 11km line, with 15 stops, will connect Dudley with Birmingham in 40 minutes and Dudley to Wolverhampton in 30 minutes. It will enable travel between Birmingham and Brierley Hill in under an hour. With an overall £449m investment, work is already underway with services expected to start in 2023.