More than half of the west Midlands regional development agency’s land and business assets could be put up for sale against councils’ wishes.
In a report compiled by Advantage West Midlands (AWM) and obtained by LGC, the soon-to-be-abolished agency recommends that of its 38 land and buildings assets, 15 be retained by public sector bodies within the region - including the Longbridge regeneration site.
It also recommends that the remaining 23 are earmarked for “market disposal”. The assets were most recently valued at £107m.
Of the 23 to be put on the market, 13 - including the former BBC studios at Pebble Mill - are recommended for immediate sale, with 10 earmarked for sale in the “medium term”.
The plan (attached right), which has been submitted to the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills for approval, said the assets in the latter category needed “minimal investment by the agency or another public sector partner” to optimise their value on the market.
The report also recommends that PxP - the agency’s joint venture with developer Langtree Group and the Royal Bank of Scotland to bring forward commercial developments across 23 key development sites - be transferred to a ‘national body’ such as the Homes & Communities Agency, rather than sold or transferred to local authorities.
The report also states that of the agency’s 13 venture and loan capital funds for small businesses, 11 be transferred to a new special purpose company based in the region, with two others that are focused on media businesses transferred to the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts.
Meanwhile, the report recommends that of a further 102 “contingent assets” - largely land or buildings in which the agency has invested - 45 “where a return is more certain” be transferred to “a body with a presence in the region”, with the remainder - where a return is uncertain and can only be triggered by contract clauses- be transferred to a “national body”.
The report comes amid intense lobbying from councils within the region to ensure that as many assets as possible are retained locally. LGC understands the region’s new local enterprise partnerships had been pushing for the agency’s assets to be passed to them as part of a ‘dowry’ to help get the new bodies up and running.
But ministers have previously said there would be no “gift” of RDA assets to local authorities or LEPs and that “disposal” of assets would be undertaken through a process aimed at balancing local ambitions with national policy as well as deficit reduction.
In the report, AWM said it had been instructed by ministers to “create maximum long-term value for the economy and local areas”, while at the same time “maximising receipts” to DBIS and ensuring an “orderly and timely closure of the agency”.
A senior local authority source in the region said there had been “no consultation” over the asset plan and there was concern the RDA was not sharing the full financial details of the assets - including the estimated values - with its partners.
For immediate sale
1. iCentral, Wolverhampton: site next to Wolverhampton Science Park that was earmarked for high-tech employment & business opportunities
2. James Bridge Copper Works, Walsall: brownfield former industrial site earmarked to be brought back into economic use
3. Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire: earmarked for Centre of Rural Excellence. Plans says it could be transferred to Royal Agricultural Society
4. Eastside Learning & Leisure Quarter, Birmingham: key site in Eastside regeneration scheme
5. Golden Hillock, Birmingham: strategic employment site RDA planned to bring back into use to support wider regeneration and economic restructuring
6. Montgomery Street, Birmingham: strategic employment site RDA planned to bring back into use to support wider regeneration and economic restructuring
7. Pebble Mill (former BBC studios), Birmingham: strategic acquisition - part of strategy to boost Birmingham’s high-tech high value-added economy
8. Tyseley Wharf, Birmingham: strategic employment site, strategic employment site RDA planned to bring back into use to support wider regeneration and economic restructuring - to be sold to British Waterways
9. Central Business District, Stoke on Trent: site earmarked for central city regeneration with high quality offices
10. Chetterley Valley, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire: former colliery land - strategic employment site RDA planned to bring back into use to support wider regeneration and economic restructuring of North Staffordshire
11. Kington Hospital, Kington, Herefordshire: RDA planned to bring site back into employment use to support Kington’s tourism sector - to be sold to sale YHA
12. Wem Timber Yard, Wem, Shropshire: RDA planned to bring site back into productive use to support mixed use regeneration in Wem town centre
13. Former Eon sub-station, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire: strategic site to support development of Bromsgrove Technology Park