Deborah Cadman is the Chief Executive of the West Midlands Combined Authority  (WMCA) and a board member of the Quality of Life Foundation. Here, she tells us her views of the government’s latest planning reforms; the authority’s attitude to achieving zero carbon; how they plan to help reinvigorate local communities struggling with the effects of Covid-19; and why it’s so vital for the local community to be involved. 

Deborah Cadman

Planning reforms – the devil is in the detail…

Whilst no one can argue that green housing growth and putting good design at the heart of designing and building new neighbourhoods is a wonderful ideal – we must make sure we give granular details as much attention. ‘Build, build, build’ must be zonal as well as central, with significant investment in regions and local authorities.

This will avoid a scenario of ‘grand statements’ with few actual, tangible benefits to communities and the environment.

Achieving carbon neutrality

Our view at the West Midlands Combined Authority, is that we must be trying to achieve carbon neutral homes from today. This is the only way to achieve carbon neutrality across the country by 2041 and there is no time to idle. 

The design charter we have put forward makes climate change a priority over the next 5-10 years, so has already laid foundations for mitigation and retrofitting, so now aligns comfortably with the reforms. Howeve,r more developers, authorities and businesses must act promptly to have maximum impact, and ideally as part of our national economic recovery narrative. 

One way to aid in channeling the industry towards achieving these targets is to make carbon neutrality a condition of being granted funding or resource – something we have already set in motion.

Recharging the West Midlands

Economic and community recovery are of significant importance as we navigate through and beyond the virus. “Recharging the West Midlands”, our framework for post-covid support to our communities, aims to:

  • Secure 135,000 jobs for those who have been made redundant or lost businesses, with a focus on supporting young people and those hit hardest in lower income areas. We’ll target green manufacturing, jobs from key national opportunities such as HS2 among others and focus on reskilling, upskilling and employability schemes
  • Support a cultural resurgence – these national opportunities also include City of Culture and Commonwealth Games in Coventry, and have the potential to reinvigorate the cultural sector. 
  • Be at the heart of life-sciences and health. We’re looking to invest in health innovation with a major life sciences park with private investment. Birmingham already has the most diverse life-science region outside of London, with global pharmaceuticals businesses working in and with Birmingham businesses. We’re also asking for a £23 million radical health prevention fund to support COVID-19 recovery strategies.
  • Build 35,000 new homes for everyone in the community, with a focus on affordability and sustainability – remediating brownfield land and investing £200 million in pipeline sites
  • Design and build better digital and transport links to support the building of new communities. COVID has stalled the delivery of this but it has made the ambition all the more important, and we must regrow together

Creating a Citizens’ Panel

We want to make sure that we have a fully representative group at the heart of our work. It will always be the community that truly understands the intrinsic workings of their own neighbourhoods and what they need to flourish. Some of the discussion points at our recent community forum included; living safely with the virus, accessing healthcare, physical and mental health awareness, education, jobs and training, local business and high streets.

It’s important that the community feel confident in regaining control and decision-making powers after a long period of top-down rules and advice. During lockdown, we launched a Community Support Hub that allowed people to find and access services via an interactive map. This system grew into a network of local people offering support and services, such as a group of women offering CPR checks and childcare support for key workers. This bottom-up mobilisation of the community will create strength and resilience for the next stage of recovery, and we’re excited to work with them to deliver our programmes.