J'AIME NOVEMBER 2019

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to Coventry’s year as City of Culture in 2021, and

the Mayor is relishing his part in ensuring these big

events are both a success and leave a legacy for future

generations.

The West Midlands has seen huge investment under

Andy’s watch too. Millions have been poured into

improving transport, from boosted train services and

reopened railway stations to the trams and metro

lines that are linking up the conurbation.

The region is outperforming the rest of the UK in

building new homes, while Andy has championed a

‘brownfield first’ policy which targets derelict sites for

development to protect the Green Belt.

He is also using his business background to help

revitalise local high streets, setting up a special task

force and lobbying the Government to make tax

changes to help struggling retailers.

“People care a great deal about their town centres,

they symbolise local civic pride.

So, when they see tired shops and

vacant units on the local high

street, they want to see credible

plans to get things done,” he says.

Andy’s plans to rejuvenate

town centres include bringing

a sense of community back, by

encouraging developers to turn

unwanted retail space into homes

and re-introducing more public

services to boost footfall. He also

wants to see improvements made

to make visitors feel safer but

believes it’s vital that any changes

do not alter the unique local

character of each high street.

So, after more than two years as

the region’s first elected mayor,

does he feel the role has been

accepted by the people of the

West Midlands?

“Well, two years ago the role

seemed like an experiment,” he

said, “I hope people would say

that we are making real progress.

“It’s still a new thing – after all,

we have had an elected mayor

for two years, while London has

had one for 20 – but people are

beginning to understand how the

role can be a catalyst for change.”

Andy faces re-election in May

next year and is determined to

carry on the work he has started.

“We’re making real progress but after 40 years

of relative decline I have this sense of enormous

distance still to go,” he says.

“So, in May I shall be saying ‘stick with us, the plan

is working’. We can see the evidence of that, but we

need at least another four years to continue building

on everything that we’ve begun.”

That progress was confirmed when the region

recently passed a major economic milestone.

“The West Midlands economy regional economy

has grown well since 2010, but recently has grown

faster even than London,” he said, “That’s really

significant, because since the upturn started between

2014 and 2017, London has been the best and we

have always been second.

“Now we’re in the number one position, which I

think is the right place to be!”

WEST MIDLANDS MAYOR

ANDY STREET DEVELOPED

HIS LEADERSHIP SKILLS

AS THE BOSS OF JOHN

LEWIS. PIC ANNIE BENTON

15

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