Written by Matthew Bacon
On Thursday 4th May 2017 Conservative Andy Street was elected the first Metro Mayor for the West Midlands.
As Mayor, Mr Street will work alongside the Leaders of Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton Councils to identify opportunities and drive international promotion of the region in order to stimulate investment. Other key priorities include reforming public services, addressing issues with planning and housing, and improving internal and external transport links.
Who is Andy Street?
It has been well documented that Andy Street hails from a retail background being the former Managing Director of John Lewis. To run for the Metro Mayor position Mr Street stepped down from his £800,000 a year job at the retailer.
Born in Banbury Mr Street moved to Birmingham before his first birthday growing up in Northfield and Solihull.He graduated from Oxford with a Philosophy, Politics and Economics degree and joined the John Lewis Graduate Scheme in 1985.
He has stated that he aims to fight inequality, taking lessons from his time at the John Lewis Partnership where profits are shared out with all employees. As a result, he is also keen to address imbalances in national spending, having highlighted the example of London receiving seven times as much spending on transport infrastructure per head as the West Midlands does.
West Midlands Metro Mayor Result
As predicted by several pundits, Mr Street’s path to victory lay in the authorities surrounding Birmingham with Dudley, Walsall and particularly Solihull delivering victories for Mr Street whilst Birmingham, Sandwell, Coventry and Wolverhampton voted for the Labour candidate Sion Simon.
Whilst Mr Street certainly did enjoy the advantage of the national swing towards the Conservatives and outspent his opposition, it was a highly impressive feat to win in a region where 6 out of the 6 local authorities were controlled by the Labour Party. It has been suggested that the above average turnout in largely Conservative Solihull was a big contributor to achieving this.
Moving Forward: Andy Streets’ Priorities for the West Midlands
Mr Street has published a renewal plan for the West Midlands with some key pledges detailed below:
- Transport – Mr Street has stated that the congestion in West Midlands towns and cities is highly concerning and has stated concerns on levels of pollution. Policies to targets these areas include a pledge to rule out any universal congestion charge on drivers in the West Midlands. He also aims to create a hit list of major traffic blackspots across the region and improve public transport to encourage people to use buses and trains instead of cars. Mr Street also wants to explore a scheme to incentivise lorries and heavy vehicles to use the M6 Toll road at peak times and to remove the toll during periods of sever traffic on the M6.
- Build much needed houses but, also protect the Greenbelt – Mr Street acknowledges that there is a serious housing shortage in the West Midlands stating that the region needs 165,000 homes in the region by 2030. Mr Street pledged that if elected he will work with the local authorities to ensure they have local plans for the whole area which deliver enough housing and employment land with a suitable balance of social and private housing. He is also keen to ensure that there is enough affordable housing for those on lower incomes.
- Mr Street has stated that there is at least 1,600 hectares of brownfield land where development has been stalled for decades and has stated that it is important to build on these sites before cutting into the Greenbelt. Mr Street has also pledged to spend £200 million on preparation and decontamination of brownfield sites that could be used for housing or business development and lobby for more. Other policies include introducing a tax on vacant land to encourage quicker housebuilding. He also places a lot of emphasis on encouraging local authorities to bring empty homes back into use.
- Create highly paid jobs – Mr Street stated that according to a recent report by the Resolution Foundation, the West Midlands had the lowest average household income after costs of any city region. In order to tackle this he aims to focus on ensuring that there is enough employment land available for businesses to set up and expand and also work with universities and businesses to bring in new investment into the region from the Government’s £2 billion Research and Development Fund. Mr Street has also proposed to create a West Midlands Skills Fund and has set a target of reducing youth unemployment to zero by the end of the first three-year term in office.
So what should you take from this?
It is clear that Mr Street has a large amount of work to do and a number of key priorities. Developers should be aware of his key priorities in order to adapt their approach to new development and ensure that aspirations for the region are communicated effectively. Ensuring that any future projects are messaged in a way that aligns most closely with Mr Street’s new policies and aspirations is vital.
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