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Key stakeholders, including GBSLEP, meet to discuss challenges facing towns and local centres

Andrew Mitchell MP for Royal Sutton Coldfield, along with Cllr Simon Ward, Leader of Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council, executives from M&G Real Estate, owners of Gracechurch Centre, met with senior representatives from Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and Birmingham City Council to discuss possible initiatives to regenerate Sutton Coldfield’s town centre.

The purpose of the meeting was to bring together key stakeholders, with the expertise and insight, to discuss the structural changes underway in the UK retail sector and how these are affecting town centres, including Sutton Coldfield. They discussed initiatives to regenerate Sutton Coldfield’s town centre and, more generally, how to combat the retail slowdown impacting high streets across the country.

John Duxbury, Head of Retail and Leisure, for M&G Real Estate, highlighted the scale of the challenge as many retailers reconsider what size of physical store space is needed and in which locations. For many retailers, store profitability is under pressure from falling footfall and slowing store sales arising from the rapid growth of e-commerce and changing consumer shopping preferences, combined with increasing operating expenses.

Representatives from the GBSLEP, WMCA, Birmingham City Council and Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council, discussed ideas on how to combat the ongoing challenges facing the retail market. These include, actions to help ease retailers’ cost pressures, which have led to store closures highlighted by the recent consultation announced by Marks & Spencer.

Despite these challenges, M&G Real Estate noted Gracechurch Centre’s strong performance in comparison to many other retail centres across the country and outlined how, with careful planning and investment, vacant property can create opportunities to convert surplus retail into alternative uses including residential, employment and community purposes to stimulate footfall and economic growth in the town.

Demonstrating its commitment to the Midlands region, M&G Real Estate also announced that it had enlisted the architecture firm Chapman Taylor – a regeneration specialist and renowned for its work on London’s St Pancras International rail station – to draft conceptual plans for the future of Sutton Coldfield’s town centre.

Speaking after the meeting, Andrew Mitchell MP said:

“I am extremely grateful to M&G Real Estate for coming to Royal Sutton Coldfield for this important meeting.

“My constituents will agree with me that news of Marks & Spencer vacating the Gracechurch Centre was a blow for the Royal Town. But this meeting marks the beginning of something exciting which will address the structural difficulties faced by our beloved town centre.

“It is now imperative that the work we are doing on the future of the town centre is led by the Royal Sutton Coldfield Town Council and that Birmingham City Council allow the Town Council to lead, while providing robust support.

“It has long been clear to me that the future of the town centre is inextricably tied up with new forms of housing and wider infrastructure development. I have also been in close contact with the Mayor of the West Midlands, Andy Street, who frequents the Royal Town. His role as our Regional Mayor coupled with his immense experience in running John Lewis is hugely advantageous for us.”

Cllr Simon Ward, Leader of the Town Council who also serves as the Chairman of the Royal Sutton Coldfield Regeneration Partnership said:

“We are grateful to M&G and to Andrew for facilitating this meeting. No one underestimates the deep challenges that are facing our Town Centres. The Town Council is determining to rise to those challenges and to deliver a tangible long term plan. Such a plan needs the buy in of all stakeholders, be they local authorities, community groups or transport providers, which is why our partnership has been established.

“We have much to be proud of in the rich heritage across our Royal Town, let’s make sure our Town Centre reflects the many strengths of Royal Sutton Coldfield.

“It was encouraging to hear such a key landowner in M&G put forward a positive future vision. I hope that they will work with us and the Regeneration Partnership over the coming months as we develop an exciting vision and plan for the future of our Town Centre.”