Landscape of change
With significant new developments ahead, Wolverhampton is an exciting place to be. We talked to Wolverhampton Development Company Chief Executive Stephen Catchpole about why the city’s future looks so bright…
Wolverhampton is undergoing a process of transformation. The physical signs of this are becoming evident, with developments, such as the Low Level Station now taking shape and the Summer Row retail scheme about to get under way.
But there are other long-term changes, which will attract further investment and create a city of regional, national and international significance.
University Vice-Chancellor on board
Wolverhampton Development Company (WDC) is an urban regeneration organisation, established primarily to help increase the pace of that change and drive forward major initiatives.
To do this successfully, it needs to take advantage of the knowledge service-based economies that are emerging.
The University of Wolverhampton is playing a vital role in this, with Vice-Chancellor Professor Caroline Gipps as a Director of the Board.
WDC Chief Executive Stephen Catchpole welcomes the support of the University and other key partners, and is committed to ensuring ambitious targets are successfully achieved.
He took up the new post towards the end of last year, following success as Chief Executive at Cambridgeshire Horizons.
“What attracted me to Wolverhampton was it that it offers a much greater challenge and there is more scope for transformation,” he says.
“I liked the historic fabric of the city centre and the fact that the people are extremely welcoming. It’s a superb location, very close to the second largest city and surrounded by fabulous countryside. It has a very human feel about it.”
Building a reputation for the city
He plans to capitalise on these strengths and build up the reputation of the city, with a clear vision for its future.
“Wolverhampton’s wealth was built upon traditional manufacturing industries but with their decline, the city has to transform itself to be relevant to the 21st Century. The city has a lot of interest from investors and one of our main activities is to turn that interest into sustainable schemes on the ground.”
Short-term, the transformation will continue with some developments that have been in the pipeline but are now close to starting. These include:
- i54 - This is a 226 acre site near Junction 2 of the M54 which should provide 6,000 new jobs. The importance of i54 is that it includes higher education research, as well as development potential.
- Summer Row - This will provide a major boost to the retail offering. It is likely to be anchored by a new Debenhams, Marks & Spencer, other shops, restaurants and some residential.
- Interchange - This is based around the railway station and bus station. It will include 280,000 sq ft of offices, new hotels, residential accommodation and a remodelled railway and bus station, providing a new, modern transport hub to serve Wolverhampton.
Mr Catchpole believes that these projects will have a significant impact on the city, but strongly believes longer-term planning is still crucial.
“When these schemes have been absorbed we don’t want to wait another 20 years for the next phase of development,” he says. “In line with the Black Country study, we want to encourage people to stay in the region, attract people with higher skills levels and raise income levels by ensuring better skills and types of jobs.”
Creating foundations for success
He says WDC will be looking at helping to create 30,000 new jobs by 2030. Some of these will be from the schemes outlined but the single major development for the future is the creation of more than two million sq ft of new offices in the city centre. This will provide a significant element of the jobs total and the company is now engaging master-planners to help identify where would be the most appropriate sites.
“Investors will want to invest in successful places rather than individual sites, so we and other partners need to ensure that the ingredients for success are all present,” says Mr Catchpole. “That means getting a skilled workforce, making sure the infrastructure is appropriate, particularly transportation, and ensuring that there is a quality cultural offering, together with leisure facilities. Wolverhampton will offer the complete package for a successful 21st Century city.”
He stresses that key to this is the University and the continued enhancement of its reputation to ensure that graduates are being produced to meet the requirements of employers, and that these graduates have opportunities to remain in the area and start their own enterprises.
“The growth of the University is crucial to the wellbeing of Wolverhampton,” he says. “We are very fortunate that the University has a good reputation for us to build on.”
He is very enthusiastic about the Wolverhampton India Project. This aims to strengthen existing links and open up new opportunities for mutual benefit, making a positive contribution to businesses, individuals and communities in India and Wolverhampton.
Education and Culture/Sport are the project’s three main areas of focus.
The University has strong links with India and is one of the main partners for the Project, which Mr Catchpole believes will be of great benefit to the region.
“It’s a fantastic opportunity for the city to link with the third largest economy, and the University is at the forefront of this” he says.
“The future looks good – there’s an exciting time ahead for Wolverhampton.”