Last week an observant TPA supporter noted that while the West Midlands Fire Service are busy fitting out a new £23million base for their control centre staff, literally just across the road the ill-fated i54 technology park - a 220 acre regeneration project run by Wolverhampton City Council - lies vacant without a single tenant having signed up (see both images with M54 J2 circled in red to illustrate proximity).
What is more, this incongruity became quite blatant when articles referring to the two separate projects were printed on the same page of last Thursday’s Express & Star (9th April). So if it’s obvious and logical to us, why on earth does this logic seemingly escape the executives who are no doubt paid good money to head-up these initiatives?
Just why is it so inconceivable for these two public bodies to put their heads – and resources – together in a bid to save us taxpayers some money?
The i54 site must be worrying the council. There was a point where it looked as though it’d been mothballed indefinitely, and already thousands of pounds have been spent on security staff whilst tumbleweed has continued to blow across the vast site. The public have surely become weary of the various and reoccurring talk of ‘mystery investors’ and broken promises of foreign money. We’re told to expect an announcement “at the end of the year”, but in the meantime we’re to sit back and accept the absurd decision to house fire service staff in a multi-million pound building over the road.
Who is making these decisions, and why is any dialogue between the fire service and the city council so fractured that even the most rational conclusion seems to evade them? They’re all public services, all run for and paid for by the taxpayer, self-evidently local to one another and supposedly aware that there’s a push to save money, not squander it.
I’m sure we’d all like to see the i54 succeed, as taxpayers and stakeholders we’d be foolish to sit back and hope it falls on its face, but the fact is there are obviously some real problems attracting interest from the sort of companies needed to reverse the fortunes of the park. Quite clearly the council are loathe to admit defeat and are still wedded to the original idea, but economic circumstances have changed dramatically and what was planned might takes years if it ever does come to fruition.
Pride and blinkered-vision are the enemies of good business acumen, and this local authority now needs be pragmatic if they’re to adapt to the new circumstances that have presented themselves and serve their electorate properly.
No doubt the council and fire service alike could come up with hundreds of reasons – or excuses – as to why housing the control centre on the i54 would be entirely impracticable, but you can be sure that many more will relate to the nature of the relationship between these two bodies than real logistics, because at the end of the day there’s a 200 acre site vacant on one side of the road and 130 staff about to move in on the other. Isn’t it just what used to be called commonsense?