Muse places razor sharp focus on delivery of landmark projects

Arden Cross

Urban placemaker Muse opened its Midlands office with a bang this time last year and is set to expand its footprint all over the region.

It’s been a busy period for Muse, which is part of the Morgan Sindall group, as it secured deals to develop the £3.2bn Arden Cross regeneration, (Wolverhampton’s £50m City Centre West Quarter as part of the English Cities Fund (ECF), a joint venture between Muse, Legal & General and Homes England) and Solihull’s Mell Square redevelopment.

Phil Mayall, managing director and Maggie Grogan, managing director for the Midlands, discussed with how 2024 will be focused on the delivery of these landmark projects.

Mayall said: “The Midlands was a location that Muse felt was in need of our services, that being working in partnership with local authorities to tackle deprivation and structural change brought on by changes in the retail environment, as well as the repopulation of our towns and city centres”.

This desire to regenerate the region was boosted through the creation and success of the West Midlands Combined Authority which has a “very clear voice and set of policies that we can respond to”.

“We started to see that mindset shift in the Midlands that actually places working together for a common good as far more powerful. When we’ve looked at the region in the past, we felt it did not have a joined-up approach, but this has changed in recent years”.

Despite a myriad of challenges being thrown at every business across the UK, Muse is confident through its long-term approach it will ride each wave.

“The agreements for our projects are signed for 10, 15, 20 years – no one would have been able to predict what we have faced in recent years, but if you look to these short-term challenges, you won’t complete the long-term goal” believes Mayall.

“But partners like the combined authority are not saying ‘well this isn’t what we signed up to’ instead – we’re collectively looking at how we can respond and in ten years’ time, they’ll be a different set of challenges”.

Last month, The English Cities Fund (ECF), (the JV between Muse, Legal & General and Homes England) entered a partnership with the City of Wolverhampton Council for its £50m City Centre West scheme. It’s the largest regeneration opportunity in Wolverhampton worth £50m, with plans to deliver 1,000 homes alongside leisure, retail, and public spaces.

For Maggie Grogan, it’s the “ambition and vision of the council” that has been really important for Muse to get behind.

She believes: “It’s easy to say that placemaking only starts when you begin building, but that is not the case. Placemaking begins by creating an interest in that location and for a city like Wolverhampton, there is a pent-up demand for more to be going on.

“We have a lot of conversations with local authorities where they’ve definitely got the ambition, but unless you’ve got the detail that sits behind it like Wolverhampton, it can be quite difficult”.

Grogan anticipates that the development agreement will be signed early next year, with the planning application set to be lodged later on in 2024.

How the area could look

But more recently Muse was appointed as the preferred development partner for the regeneration of the Mell Square shopping centre in Solihull. The regeneration will deliver new public and leisure spaces, as well as new homes – as part of a new mixed-use neighbourhood.

Comparing both Wolverhampton and Solihull, Grogan believes that “placemaking is about making sure that you work with the identity of the place and it’s not a cookie-cutter development.

“Solihull is a very successful town centre that’s got good footfall, but what it needs is a shift towards a 24/7 economy. It needs to assess what its residents do in the evenings and how it attracts different people at different times”.

In the first half of next year a public consultation will be launched, as “with it being a successful town centre, people having input into what they want to is going to be really important to us”.

The trio is rounded up by the huge Arden Cross masterplan, designed to drive forward the success of the HS2 Interchange Station, with plans to build 3,000 new homes, create up to 6m sq ft of employment space and generate around 27,000 new jobs.

The appointment of Muse came after Arden Cross signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with University Hospitals Birmingham (UHB) and the University of Warwick to explore opportunities for bringing forward a new Medical & Technology Campus to deliver ‘world-beating innovation’ in healthcare and technology sectors.

For Muse, this campus is currently the key focus in its adaptable masterplan, with plans to submit the application for this next year.

Grogan said: “We want to make sure we have that long-term vision that’s adaptable, but also make sure we have an aspect we can deliver early on.

“We’re working with the universities on the campus and how that fits in with the strategy around universities and innovation. I think it’s a really key point for the Midlands over the next couple of years, especially with schemes like BIQ coming forward”.

For these West Midlands projects, the focus is razor-sharp on the delivery.

Mayall said: “Our reputation is built on delivery. You can sign up for a whole myriad of things, but if you don’t deliver then you’re only as good as the last job you did.

“We’ll be putting a real focus on delivery, supporting Maggie and the team in the Midlands to do that. Giving our partners the very best of our attention. And then together working on those macro and economic climate challenges as well as the uncertainty that an election year will bring”.

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