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City Centre South – A Sign of Things To Come Or Back Room Deal Rubber-Stamped?

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City Centre South Coventy 2

The news that the newly formed West Midlands Combined Authority has agreed to commit almost £100 million to finance the City Centre South development is surely very welcome news indeed.

Our local politicians think so, and have wasted no time in hailing this as ‘devolution in action’. Understandable given the huge public outcry that followed the almost farcical ‘public consultation’ and the subsequent decision to sign up to a devolution deal that very few people in the city appeared to support. There’s nothing like a good dollop of vindication with your morning coffee.

Perhaps we should allow George Duggins and his colleagues their little moment, because despite having serious reservations about the Combined Authority and Coventry’s place in it; there is little question that this cash injection will have significant benefits for Coventry and will go a long way to improving the miserable shopping experience that the city centre currently provides.

A sign of things to come?  Perhaps this is where we should insert a note of caution.  It is almost certainly true that this level of support for a single regeneration project, especially a retail led scheme that would ordinarily be left to private developers (with some degree of local authority support), would not have been provided by central government.  But are we not being deceived a little here?

Investment in, and support for, City Centre South was on the agenda during talks that proceeded the devolution deal.  This was stated publicly.  You almost had the sense that it was a prerequisite, a bargaining chip that was used throughout the negotiations as Coventry positioned itself and laid out its conditions of entry.

Perhaps the news today, rather than marking the onset of a golden age of cooperation and heralding the beginning of a brave new world and a ‘Midlands Powerhouse’, is simply the WMCA coming good on its promise.  Is this, to use a football analogy, not simply our ‘signing-on fee’?

If it is, then it’s a pretty hefty one, and you have to applaud those involved for a hand well-played; although one wonders how this news will be received in Wolverhampton and Dudley?  Perhaps they’re waiting on their own welcome gift. It is Christmas after all.

I’m veering towards the cynical, and perhaps that is not the right chord to strike on the back of such a positive piece of news.  Welcome though it is, and despite claims that this alone justifies the huge gamble our local politicians took on our behalf, there is still a long way to go before the naysayers are silenced.

Questions remain.  What support will the Combined Authority give to Friargate, given that another major (and very similar) commercial development has been proposed for the Curzon HS2 Interchange?  To what extent will the WMCA fight Coventry’s corner in respect to the proposed cuts to the current three trains per hour service between Coventry and London Euston?  What will happen when this honeymoon period is over and hard choices have to be made about the allocation of funds?  Will Birmingham start flexing its muscles and start making demands of its own?  How will the new elected mayor be received and how Birmingham-centric will they be?

The questions will be answered in time.  For now, I caution that our politicians do not get too carried away.

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