West Bar revival is back in business

The orginal scheme, pictured,  failed when the developers crashed.
The orginal scheme, pictured, failed when the developers crashed.

HOPES are being revived for a major development of offices at West Bar for the legal, professional and financial sectors, writes Peter Kay.

A hotel, supermarket and bars and restaurants are also envisaged as part of a revised strategy now that the council is working with a new developer after the previous one fell victim to the recession.

Land between the law courts and Kelham Island was earmarked by Castlemore Securities for a £400m project until the company crashed in March 2009.

Now the ball is being picked up by Urbo, a regeneration company established by two locally-based companies, Arnold Laver and Bolsterstone Plc.

Coun Helen Mirfin–Boukouris, cabinet member for business, jobs and growth, said: “Transferring the development agreement to Urbo will allow them to restart the process of delivering one of the city’s key regeneration projects.

“This is a huge and very significant project for the city, and one that will totally transform the site over the next ten to 15 years as well as creating more jobs for local people. It will also bring an end to uncertainty for businesses who own or occupy premises in the area.”

Offices on the seven acre site - bordered by West Bar, Corporation Street and Bridge Street - will be designed to offer accommodation for legal, professional and financial businesses, aiming to link the traditional legal and professional district in the Cathedral Quarter with the Crown Courts and the growing Riverside business and residential community.

As well as the economic value to the city, the council has been keen to promote redevelopment of the land as a way of expanding the city centre northwards towards the inner relief road and creating more attractive and safer connections with Kelham Island.

Halesowen-based Castlemore was making progress, and making a significant investment in the process, in preparing a development agreement, buying land and securing planning approval.

Then it became a high-profile victim of the world economic crisis.

Urbo has asked the council and Castlemore’s administrators, Price Waterhouse Coopers, to effectively transfer the West Bar Development Agreement so that it can revive the scheme.

Already Urbo is working on major projects such as the £300m Chesterfield Waterside project and the 120 acre Canal Road regeneration scheme in Bradford. Bolsterstone already owns land within the West Bar site.

The council hopes that Urbo will acquire remaining land through negotiation, “enabling property owners to make decisions about relocation in a more planned and co-ordinated way”. However, the authority says it will seek to use compulsory purchase order powers “as a last resort”.

As with the original legal agreement, any CPO costs will be covered by the developer.

The Castlemore scheme included a 240-bed four- or five-star hotel, 750 apartments and accommodation for up to 500 students well as 900,000 sq ft of grade A office space and leisure attractions.

However, there is no indication from the council that the updated strategy will have such a large residential element. It also remains to be seen whether the original designs are pursued – ones that envisaged tower blocks, two soaring to 27 storeys and one to 14, at each of the three corners of the site.

It is expected that Urbo will seek to submit a new planning application in line with the council’s masterplan. Councillors will be briefed at a cabinet meeting later this month.