Regeneration of former bread factory site continues with more than 50 homes now built

The 50th new home has now been completed on the once derelict site of the former Harvestime Bakery in Walsall with construction continuing despite the pandemic.

The 88-home development by Vistry Partnerships has only been made possible by a £1.5m investment by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) which has been used to clean up the site and make it suitable for housing.

The scheme is one of a growing number of disused industrial sites that are being redeveloped under the West Midlands Mayor and WMCA’s ‘brownfield first’ regeneration programme, bringing long derelict sites back to life with homes and jobs for local people.

Photocaption (l-r) Paul Stockwell (Gatehouse), Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street, Vicky Kirby (Sigma), Cllr Mike Bird, John Bedford (whg), Darren Beale (Vistry), Sarah Morgan (Vistry)

Harvestime closed nine years ago and the 4.6-acre site remained derelict until the WMCA stepped in to fund the clean-up and prepare the ground for new housing.

Throughout the lockdown the WMCA has continued to press ahead with its multi-million-pound investment programme to unlock and transform scores of brownfield sites like Harvestime, provide market confidence and help drive the region’s post-Covid-19 economic recovery, delivering new jobs and homes in the process.

A focus on housebuilding on brownfield sites is a key part of the region’s Covid recovery plans with the WMCA continuing to seek further funding from Government to extend its brownfield-first programme.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, said: “The redevelopment of derelict sites across the region is a key part of our economic plan to unlock our region’s potential. Ploughing on with developments like Harvestime during the pandemic is helping our economy recover from the impact of Covid, kickstarting the creation of new jobs and good quality, affordable homes for local people.

“So, it’s really encouraging that despite the turmoil of the last 18 months work has continued to progress on this site, one of many across the region we have been redeveloping.

“Harvestime and similar brownfield sites are notoriously difficult to develop, which is why they’ve remained derelict for so long. But with the funds we’ve secured from Government, we’re able to intervene and clean up the land, making it ready for new homes or commercial workplaces.

“Without the West Midlands Combined Authority’s investment, these sites would remain undeveloped, but by unlocking them for homes and jobs we’re able to bring communities back to life, whilst crucially relieving pressure to build on our precious green belt.”

Of the homes, 66 will be made available for private rent through Gatehouse Bank. At least 20% of the homes in any scheme the WMCA invests in are required to be affordable under the Combined Authority’s own locally applied definition, which is linked to real world local wages rather than property prices. Once complete, these properties will be available through local housing association WHG.

The scheme is being constructed by leading regeneration specialists, Vistry Partnerships.

Darren Beale, managing director at Vistry Partnerships West Midlands, said: “We are delighted to have hit this important milestone at Harvestime, and it is testament to the can-do attitude of the team on-site to get us here today despite the logistical challenges coming from the pandemic.

“I would also like to thank the WMCA, as well as our various project partners for their continued support, and we look forward to welcoming residents to the new community in the not-too-distant future.”

The site off Raleigh Street, close to Walsall town centre, has stood empty and neglected since the Harvestime Bakery closed in 2012 and its buildings demolished.

Cllr Mike Bird, leader of Walsall Council and WMCA portfolio holder for housing and land, said: “Without our intervention this site would have remained an unloved plot in the centre of Walsall. Now, thanks to the rapid progress we have made during the last year, the site is well on the way to becoming a thriving new community.

“This is just one of many dozens of former industrial sites which are being transformed and demonstrates why the WMCA is a national leader in brownfield land regeneration.”

John Bedford, technical director, WHG, added: “We are extremely proud to be part of this exciting development. With significant investment from the WMCA and working with Vistry Partnerships, we have been able to provide much needed quality affordable homes in the area for local people”

Harvestime Bakeries was once one of Walsall’s biggest employers and there had been a bakery on the site since the 1800s.

But it went into administration twice in 2005 and was rescued through an agreed takeover package by Maple Leaf Bakery UK, securing 250 jobs after more than 100 workers were made redundant.

The bakery closed in 2012 after the company announced it was leaving the sliced bread market, with around 230 staff being encouraged to apply for posts at the Perfection Foods bakery, which opened elsewhere in the town.