Case study Brierley Hill, West Midlands

Both case studies are the same geographical location

Sourced from :

Manufacturing industry- iron and steel- located area of decline:

Round Oak Steelworks

Service industry – out of town retail developments- located area of growth:

Merry Hill Centre

Manufacturing Industry Iron and Steel location factors and reasons for growth and subsequent decline

Bilston: a Black Country community

1866:  Sir Henry Newbolt was 4 years old in Bilston, which has a similar industrial history to Brierley Hill for our purposes.

He says. " The walks of my childhood were treeless and smoke blighted, they led me by black canals and among huge slag-heaps where no grass could grow, where the sun rarely shone, where at night a man could read a newspaper by the glare of the blast furnaces luridly reflected in the dense low sky." Memoirs of Sir Henry Newbolt, 1932

Growth and prosperity

During the early twentieth century Bilston became increasingly industrialised and the brochure for the 1933 Charter Ceremony mentions the manufacture of pig-iron, steel bars and strip, galvanised sheets, steel stampings and pressings, boilers, castings, bolts and nuts, tubes, aircraft components and hollow-ware amongst what it boasts are the hundred trades of Bilston.


Most of these, however, were heavy industries, all interconnected and the town has suffered badly in periods of recession, first in the 1930s, and then again in the late 1970’s and the 1980’s.The closure of the steelworks in 1979 was particularly serious.

The closure of the Round Oak Steelworks on the present Merry Hill site had a similar effect on the surrounding community of Brierley Hill:

Service industry -out of town retail location- factors and reasons for growth

Merry Hill is a retail and leisure facility of regional scale forming part of an area now designated by Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council as Greater Brierley Hill. It stands in the geographic centre of the Borough, the second largest within the highly urbanised West Midlands conurbation.

The original Brierley Hill, the high street of which lies to the immediate south of the new retail centre and the surrounding residential communities, grew up in response to the economic activity generated by the former Round Oak steelworks and rolling mills. Closure of those works in 1980 represented the culmination of an industrial restructuring suffered by this part of the West Midlands in a comparatively short period.

Government attempts to institute renewal resulted in an area, including that now covered by Merry Hill and the adjoining Waterfront commercial office development, being granted Enterprise Zone status, first in 1981 and then enlarged in 1984.

Enterprise Zone designation gave impetus to a striking renewal which has served to transform the level of commercial activity in the area and at the same time restore a large tract of brownfield land to economic use. From the first tentative and subsidised investments, confidence and aspirations for the future have grown beyond all expectations.

Today, in the retail facilities, the leisure users at the cinema and around the marina, the hotel, prestige offices and industry, a range of complementary activities has become established which when aggregated together are described by the local authority as "the most vibrant, dynamic and powerful economic force within Dudley Borough and arguably the Black Country".

The 21st Century: Merry Hill as one third of the new regenerated town centre of Brierley Hill together with Waterfront and the existing town centre.

Service industry growth as the focus of urban regeneration

In order to help maintain momentum of the urban evolution taking place, the local authority has instituted a formal process developed to define the enlarged Brierley Hill as a town centre and the principal focus for further large scale retail and commercial development within the Dudley Borough. Widespread public consultation has been undertaken which has helped inform revisions to the adopted Unitary Development Plan. The current timetable provides for the proposed revised UDP to be placed on second public deposit in the Autumn of 2000, with a view to holding a public inquiry and subsequent formal adoption during 2001.

The new town is seen by Dudley Borough as benefiting from three complementary elements:

1) The Merry Hill retail facility:

2) The adjoining Waterfront commercial development

3) The district centre around Brierley Hill high street.

The three constituent elements and the extent of the Chelsfield holdings pertaining thereto are described in great detail under ownership below.

The function of the new centre

Brierley Hill stands approximately 2 miles from Dudley town centre, 10 miles west of Birmingham and 7 miles south of Wolverhampton. The local authority’s vision for Brierley Hill is as a new, thriving town centre serving the needs of a large residential community both locally and within the wider sub region. 25,000 people live within 1 mile of the new town centre, reflecting the embedded urban location. Dudley Borough has a population of around 315,000 people and it has registered a four percent population increase over the last 15 years. It has the highest projected future population growth of any borough within the metropolitan West Midlands

The combination of Merry Hill acting as principal local centre for Dudley Borough and its immediate surroundings and predominant comparison retailing centre for the south west quadrant of the metropolitan West Midlands and the relatively wealthy counties of Worcestershire, Staffordshire and Shropshire, has become progressively more marked. In excess of 3.2 million people live within 45 minutes drive time of Merry Hill, well over 0.5 million live within 15 minutes. Survey evidence of households in Dudley suggest that amongst the under 40’s, over 50 per cent visit Merry Hill more than once per week. Equally, settlement patterns are such that the affluent south western quadrant lacked a dominant sub-regional centre until the recent past. Merry Hill now represents the most readily accessible retail and commercial location for a substantial proportion of the region's most affluent areas including Hagley, Kidderminster, Stourbridge and north Worcestershire. Previously, the main retail choice for many in this south western area would have been to make the longer trip to Worcester.

A programme of road enhancements has served to strengthen connections between the motorway network and the enlarged Brierley Hill and also improve traffic conditions in the immediate locality. The Dudley Southern By­pass opened in October 1999 and completes a dual carriageway link to Merry Hill from junction 2 of the M5. This has substantially increased accessibility from the north and east. ownership

Chelsfield's current land ownership within the boundaries of Greater Brierley Hill aggregates approximately 225 acres. It owns the whole Merry Hill retail facility, the freehold and various economic interests within the adjoining Waterfront office, hotel and leisure complex and has acquired substantial development land and other holdings connecting into Brierley Hill high street so as to facilitate improved linkage between the component parts. The extent of existing ownership is such as to provide for implementation of the UDP framework proposals.

Merry Hill retail development
Merry Hill is a retail facility of regional scale substantially built in phases between 1984-1989 with subsequent extensions. . It occupies a 125 acre site with two levels of covered mall shops, a retail warehouse park, a 10-screen multiplex cinema and 8,000 car parking spaces. The lettable floor areas of the various elements of Merry Hill are:

Covered shopping


1,055,000 sq. ft

Retail warehouse


320,000 sq. ft

Multiplex cinema


40,000 sq. ft

Other retail


100,000 sq. ft



1,515,000 sq. ft

The covered malls provide over 185 shops and kiosks, a department store, several large variety stores, 2 supermarkets and 24 catering outlets providing 2,200 seats.

Depending upon the method of measurement, it is probably the third largest facility of it's type in the UK after Bluewater and the Metro Centre.

Debenhams operate the department store and large units are occupied by Marks & Spencer and British Home Stores. Sainsbury's and Asda are also represented. As well as its retail and cinema functions, Merry Hill provides banks and building societies, post office, tourist information centre and a range of community facilities such as senior citizens’ clubs, careers service and a citizens advice bureau.

The level of economic interest enjoyed by Chelsfield is higher than at most comparable centres. Only the units occupied by Asda, the original Marks & Spencer store (totalling 110,000 sq. ft.) and 180,000 sq. ft of the retail warehousing are let out on long leases at peppercorn rents. The remainder are mostly, commanding market terms and subject to five year upward only review. The next cycle of rent reviews mainly fall due between 2002 and 2003.
Waterfront office development
It is rarely acknowledged that without the priming development and subsequent success of the early retail based phases at Merry Hill, the adjoining Waterfront development would almost certainly never have been achieved.

Part and parcel of the original Merry Hill scheme as envisaged by the original developers, the Richardson Brothers, the Waterfront has become established as the most successful urban office and employment location in the West Midlands, outside of central Birmingham. Construction took place between 1990 and 1994 as phases 6 to 8 of the Dudley Enterprise Zone development after the retail critical mass had become established. Merry Hill changed market perceptions, instilling the investment confidence that underpins the diversity of uses that has followed in its wake.

The Waterfront occupies 60 acres around a reconstructed canal basin and the format is mixed use with leisure and retail uses situated beneath commercial space fronting onto the canal side which is also overlooked by the 4 star Copthorne Hotel. The development comprises a lettable area of over 700,000 square feet [Question REB – does this include the business park] and has attracted central Government offices (Child Support Agency and Inland Revenue), local business organisation (Dudley TEC and Dudley Chamber of Commerce and Industry), plus service industries and electronic firms. Over 3,000 people (more than 60 per cent of them women) are employed in clerical (65 per cent) and other occupations. Large private sector tenants at the Waterfront include Barclays, Prudential and Cable Midlands.

The Copthorne has 138 suites and bedrooms and a recently constructed 600 seat conference centre, again the largest in the West Midlands outside central Birmingham. Chelsfield has obtained a resolution to grant planning permission to build a second hotel (see planning below). The Waterfront also boasts a thriving night time economy centred around its bars and restaurants which have provided a new social focus in Dudley Borough. Bass and Greenalls operate some of the principal facilities. The clientele tends to be relatively young.

The freehold to the Waterfront land and the majority of its buildings is owned by Chelsfield. A proportion of the offices are let on long leases at peppercorn rents to other investors (including the Richardson Brothers) who enjoy the effective economic interest in the tenanted buildings. Chelsfield is responsible for the security and management and for service charge administration of Merry Hill and the Waterfront in their combined entirety. Nonetheless, the company holds an unencumbered interest in 55,000 sq. ft. of bar and restaurant accommodation fronting the canal and in 310,000 sq. ft. of offices and related B1 floorspace.

Brierley hill town

Chelsfield owns land interests with development potential totalling a further 45 acres within the designated boundaries of Greater Brierley Hill. These include two raised plateaux created by reconfiguring the canal at a total cost of £12 million. The works enable connecting development as well as serving to moderate the previously severe level changes between Brierley Hill high street and Merry Hill. The proposals include the new hotel and a 20 screen moving theatre, including IMAX, designed by Wilkinson Associates, as well as providing for the creation of a new public square and transport interchange facing the multiplex. The interchange will serve the proposed metro line extension.

Retail Catchment or market area/sphere of influence

Merry Hill attracted 21 million visitors in 1998 with an average weekly footfall in excess of 400,000 people. Due to the density of population and the correspondingly congested transport patterns, Merry Hill has quite different catchment characteristics from other new retail centres which were constructed during approximately the same period. The Merry Hill catchment is much more tightly defined, as evidenced by the estimate that 49 per cent of visitors originate from within Dudley Borough.

The dual role performed by Merry Hill is reflected in visitor characteristics.

·        · Over 40 per cent of Merry Hill's visitors now come from socio demographic groups A, B and Cl.

·        ·Merry Hill visitors have higher levels of house and car ownership than the regional average.

·        ·The number of A, B and Cl's visiting Merry Hill increased by 10 per cent over the year 1999.

·        ·Independent research shows that average expenditure by visitors to Merry Hill has increased from £46 in 1997 to £61 in 1999.

The south-western portion of the region is expected to witness the largest increase in population up to 2011. The area also enjoys low unemployment and performs consistently well in national education standards.

The sphere of influence/market area/ catchment maps produce by Hillier Parker

·        The most striking demonstration of Merry Hill's changing demographics is provided by the retail catchment mapping undertaken by Hillier Parker.

·        Geographic catchment representations from 1996 and 1998 are included in the view the site section.

·        They show clearly the manner in which Merry Hill has enlarged its catchment to the south and west but also the limited extent to which it can be said to compete with Birmingham or Wolverhampton.

·        The catchment characteristics are quite different from historic presumptions.

·        Merry Hill is the most convenient place to visit for the vast majority of its customers.

Planning Issues

Dudley was amongst the first of the urban authorities to adopt its UDP in November 1993. It is also amongst the first to commence review. The process started in spring 1998 and is now quite advanced.

The Government appointed inspector to the Merry Hill Public Inquiry concluded in July 1997 that the designation of the entire Brierley Hill area as a town centre for planning purposes ought properly to be pursued through the UDP process. The local authority embraced this recommendation and the future planning strategy for Brierley Hill is a fundamental part of the changes being proposed. The development proposals for Merry Hill and the wider Brierley Hill area are embodied in a series of consultation documents.

Recognising the changed retail and commercial hierarchy and extent to which Merry Hill and the Waterfront have been the principal economic drivers within the Borough over the past ten years, the Authority is now seeking to designate Brierley Hill as the primary retail and commercial centre. The proposals have been subject to widespread public presentation and a significant level of support has been gained. The work received special commendation for the quality of its urban design in the 1999 Royal Town Planning Institute national awards for planning achievement.

Pursuant to that strategy, the local authority has resolved to grant consent in two separate approvals for approaching 300,000 sq. ft. of new hotel, multiplex and restaurant facilities. The canalside reconfiguration having been completed, [AGH to provide link] work is expected to commence shortly on this first phase of integrative development between Merry Hill and Brierley Hill high street as well as helping direct pedestrian flows along the canalside to and from the Waterfront.

An outline application was submitted subsequently to rearrange existing surface car parking at the Waterfront so as to provide for the development of 617,000 sq. ft. of offices and ancillary uses and 150,000 sq. ft. of residential accommodation on the land released. Independent masterplanning analysis shows that the eventual scale of the high order metropolitan centre could be such as to support in excess of 4 million sq. ft of new construction with a balanced mix of uses. In the context of that masterplanning exercise, Roger Tym & Partners, commissioned separately by Dudley Borough, have reported that demand demographics are such as to warrant an additional 400,000+ sq. ft of new comparison retail floorspace. The intention is that this becomes a presumption for enlargement over the life of the new UDP and is in order to maintain the competitive position of the new town centre.

Notwithstanding the extent of public consultation, the statutory requirements are for the revised UDP proposals to be tested at public inquiry. The current timetable is for a public inquiry in the first half of 2001, with formal adoption thereafter. In the interim, the Council can have regard for emerging proposals as informing the planning process.

public transport

As major investors in the Borough, Chelsfield has expressed publicly a willingness to make appropriate private sector contributions to public transport improvements. In partnership with the Local Authority, a package of integrated transport measures designed to increase accessibility and choice of means of transport to the area is being promoted. Chelsfield has already committed substantial funds to improving bus services and infrastructure projects to prioritise public transport on certain sections of the local highway network. The policy is to provide finance where long term benefits can be achieved and matched funding leveraged from transport operators.

Midland Metro LRT

The Metro system opened between Wolverhampton and Birmingham in June 1999. The extension to Brierley Hill is being promoted by Centro and could open in 2005 subject to Government funding being made available. Chelsfield has made a unilateral commitment to support the extension of the Midland Metro light rail system to Brierley Hill.

Total costs in satisfying those public undertakings are of the order of £35 million and are understood to represent the single largest unconditional private sector contribution to public transport infrastructure outside of London Dock.
Industrial and community regeneration through local regional and national partnerships

LOCAL CAPITAL AND ENTERPRISE e.g. The Richardson twins.

Respected Black Country real estate developers and entrepreneurs. The businessmen behind the original redevelopment of the Round Oak site for Merry Hill AND the Fort Dunlop retail development.


Local Borough Councils – planning and direction of projects for benefit of electorate


Urban Development Corporations and Enterprise Zones – attracting new industry

Funding for major regeneration infrastructure projects e.g. Spine roads for accessibility from M6