The partnerships with purpose series: Putting a SPARK into Walsall

Earlier this month, we unveiled a new name for SPARK – the Black Country’s largest regeneration scheme where we’re transforming 44-acres into a modern logistics and manufacturing hub.

In this article we meet two of our partners from Walsall Council and Homes England as they talk about how our tri-party collaboration has helped drive this landmark development.

“It’s an exciting time for SPARK,” says Councillor Adrian Andrew, Deputy Leader of Walsall Council and the Portfolio Holder for Regeneration. Cllr Andrew is part of the wider team helping us create a new scheme for Walsall – on a significant vacant brownfield site. “I have been involved with site for many years and it is great to see HBD making such brilliant progress. With the new brand name our vision for this site is strengthened – a vision which celebrates the legacy of previous uses, while also capitalising on the huge potential that comes with an ambitious scheme such as this.”

Homes England are also partners in SPARK, having jointly owned the land with Walsall Council for the past 10 years. Raj Sanghera of Homes England echoed Cllr Andrew’s comments: “SPARK will drive inward investment and job creation in a highly accessible and visible location right at the heart of the West Midlands adjacent to the M6 motorway.”

The plans for SPARK mirror the broader regeneration efforts in this West Midlands town; underpinned by the We Are Walsall 2040 programme. Walsall’s regeneration is being shaped by its residents who told the Council that they want investment to create a stronger local economy and deliver more job opportunities in the town.

Walsall Council recently launched its Economic Strategy which sets out several proposed actions including the reimagining of Walsall Town Centre, addressing the skills problem and delivering better job opportunities, development of brownfield sites, increased digital provision, becoming a low carbon exemplar and improving housing. “SPARK supports our ambitions,” adds Cllr Andrew. “It is a scheme that will not only clean up vacant brownfield land, but will transform it into a site with a bright future, bringing it back to life creating new jobs and investment.”

Delivering on these expectations at SPARK was the key driver for the landowners. They set about finding a developer that could not only manage the significant remediation necessary to bring the site back into use – but who could also deliver the development scheme itself. Raj continued: “We were keen to oversee the project while offering strategic input, and we wanted to find an open minded developer with the necessary skills and expertise to manage the day-to-day delivery.”

“We’ve worked really closely with HBD as that partner” adds Cllr Andrew. “Their vision for the site to provide high-quality employment space matches that of the landowners and there is a shared desire to secure notable occupiers with work now underway to achieve that goal.

“In the time since their appointment we have established a great working relationship and are moving the project in the right direction.”

As of spring 2023, a comprehensive site preparation programme is already underway – one which Cllr Andrew says “will contribute greatly to the growth of the local economy”.

The swift start onsite came following HBD’s appointment of a highly skilled professional team to develop the site preparation strategy and secure planning permission. The team also undertook a procurement exercise to appoint the lead groundworks contractor. Added Raj: “The success of this stage has also come from HBD’s desire to forge relationships with local stakeholders – something that is helping us appeal to advocates as we turn SPARK into a reality.”

Now, all three partners continue to work onsite, something that the landowners believe is down to the early successes of the partnership. “Collaboration generally results in added value,” concludes Raj. “Working together the public and private sector can ensure that schemes secure the maximum benefit for the local area and we both gain skills and knowledge from the interaction between each other.”

Find out more about SPARK here.