Cllr Ian Courts is the Leader of Solihull Council and the Chairman of the Meriden Conservative Association.
Solihull has benefited from stable Conservative leadership for many years, with strong economic growth delivering gross value added above the national average. This has allowed us to keep Council Tax rates at one of the lowest in the region. Solihull has also received the accolade as the best place to live, work, invest, and spend leisure time in the region.
We are the home of a number of key regional economic assets, such as Birmingham Airport, Birmingham International Station, the NEC, the JLR Solihull plant, to name just a few, as well as several important business parks and a regionally important shopping centre. Two thirds of our borough is Green Belt.
When the proposals for HS2 were first announced, Solihull Council developed its own response to maximising the benefit of having the first new HS2 station out of London in the borough. This will be accomplished by a new economic strategy with the UK Central brand, as well as building a powerful economic zone and interconnected transport hub, less than 40 mins from London.
The decision to move forward on HS2 needs to be taken. The economic arguments are powerful enough, but the opportunity to free up so much more capacity on the existing train lines, for both passenger and freight services, must not be missed. We need this extra capacity, to work with local public transport, if we want to deliver the low-carbon future that we now seek.
Solihull was instrumental in setting up the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) in 2015 and our Conservative Leader at the time was its first chairman amongst a majority of Labour Leaders. The identity of the West Midlands and strong sense of collaboration was reinforced when Andy Street was elected as the first Mayor in 2017.
Each of the current Leaders has a portfolio role and I was pleased to take up Environment, Energy, and HS2. The question has been asked about whether HS2 is really a good bed-fellow with the other two. However, Solihull Council and local people have fought hard to mitigate the effect on the environment. In my opinion, the HS2 team has just not made enough of the significant environmental compensation work that they are doing. In Solihull we have always been clear that economic growth from HS2, our UK Central programme, and the West Midlands Economic Strategy, is the way to support our services and Inclusive Growth is an integral part of our approach.
Our comprehensive regeneration programme in the north of the borough involved the rebuilding of all its schools, two village centres, and another one in Kingshurst to follow, alongside housing and social programmes. We continued this work when the recession, at the end of the last government’s tenure, had caused other programmes to close.
A key policy emphasis since I took over as Leader in May has been the need for stronger action on climate change. We have already cut our carbon emissions by nearly half in ten years and established a Climate Change (Green) Prospectus several years ago which addressed a number of themes including Greening the Economy, Energy and Resources, Buildings & Efficiency, Transport, Natural Capital & biodiversity, Communication & Education. However, our ability to combat climate change depends upon the need to work with nature as well as retaining a prosperous market economy. I commend the excellent work of the Conservative Environment Network in this.
Within a few weeks of taking over the WMCA portfolio, I was able to bring leaders of the seven Mets together on a cross party basis to make a Climate Change Declaration for the West Midlands Combined Authority. Solihull Council’s own Declaration was also cross party and commits the Council to net carbon zero by 2030 and the borough as a whole by 2041, in line with the regional target.
Conservatives have a majority of just one on the Council since May, down from 15 a year ago. Our main opposition is the Green Party, which envisages a very different economic policy and administration to our own. Apart from our own local elections in May, there will be an election for the post of the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner. Andy Street’s term of office also expires in May, and we need to see a continuation of his strong leadership in the region.
The recent General Election saw ex-Chamber of Commerce President, Saqib Bhatti elected as Conservative MP for Meriden, to take over from stalwart Dame Caroline Spelman, and the re-election of Julian Knight for the Solihull constituency. The need for continued Conservative thinking both in Solihull and the West Midlands has never been stronger, to protect and foster sustainable and inclusive economic growth for our borough and the region as a whole, and to support our newly invigorated central government led by Boris Johnson.