When I’m asked to consider what the future of the West Midlands might be, I find myself first drawn to considering just how far we have come.
As we continue to celebrate Coventry’s year as City of Culture and move towards the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, there is certainly much to reflect on. More widely, having grown up in Coventry I have seen constant change in the city.
I sometimes wonder if my parents would recognise Coventry now. Whilst I think they may find themselves lost as they tried to move around the town, I think they would recognise a spirit in the city which has stayed the same whilst many other things have changed.
Like our region as a whole, Coventry emerged from the devastation of the Second World War as a centre of manufacturing and engineering excellence. Later, when change meant punishing job losses and cruel austerity, this spirit of resilience and innovation has remained in our region.
We continue to be a centre of research excellence in our world-beating universities. Universities like Coventry and Warwick are working hand in hand with industry to help us shape the technology of the future. Technology which will help us meet the challenge of the green industrial revolution which will be key not just to the next decade but many to come.
Importantly though these partnerships present an opportunity to not only shape the future but to build it as well in our region. This means the chance to once again have new high paid and high-quality jobs in our region. Opportunities like a Gigafactory, just outside of Coventry, will secure the future of the automotive industry and open up new areas. By 2032 wouldn’t it be wonderful if our region, the workshop of the industrial revolution, would be the workshop of the green industrial revolution.
I would also like to see this industrial renaissance go hand in hand with the regeneration and reshaping of our cities. As people change the way they use and interact with public spaces we need to think about how our high streets can suit people’s needs.
Rather unfairly the West Midlands has often been looked down on as a concrete jungle. Yet as I travel around the region, I see wonderful examples of regeneration and reshaping of our city centres and public spaces. Out of town retail parks and the convenience of internet shopping may well have changed the way we shop forever, but there still exists a role for both our city centres and local high streets, even if it is one different to what we have previously envisioned.
In Coventry, recent years have seen a dramatic regeneration of the city centre. Cathedral Lanes, a formerly unloved shopping centre, has been transformed into a hub of restaurants. What were empty units are now doing a roaring trade, drawing people of all ages into the city centre. Outside the restaurants, what was once an island separated from the rest of the city centre by a busy road is now a large public square. Nowadays Lady Godiva’s statue looks down from its plinth upon a bustling public square which frequently hosts seasonal attractions. In this way it is a fitting tribute to the post war architects of the city centre who envisioned it as a space for pedestrians to move freely with no fear of traffic as they shopped. Whilst purposes may be forever changing, I think it is important that we continue to shape our city centres to suit the needs of residents.
Finally, one thing that ties all of the above together is the change we need to see in public transport. Utilising the technological change I have already mentioned I believe we can see a public transport revolution in our region. In Coventry I see our redeveloped and expanded railway station as a challenge to all of us to expand the use of public transport throughout the decade. This requires not only increased investment in traditional forms like rail, but again our region’s passion for innovation.
In Coventry we are developing a Very Light Rail system that will mean a cost effective and reliable transport service. Importantly, it is a system which will be cheap to run and install wherever it is needed. In the future my constituents will be able to travel around the city with ease on direct routes which connect important amenities.
I think it is also important to think about how this new technology can help us move around our region and improve journeys. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if by 2032 it was cheaper, easier and more reliable for a person from Coventry to go to a concert or play in Birmingham or Wolverhampton by public transport rather than by car.
I want to see the next decade as a decade of change for the West Midlands. Where change is a force for good. Where we make our region the best possible place to live and work in. Where we are united by our shared pride in our skills and industriousness.
Most importantly where we celebrate our shared success and purpose.