Press Comment : Richard Burden MP calls for Longbridge regeneration
Jonathan Walker, Birmingham Post, 11th September, 2009
MP Richard Burden, whose constituency includes the MG plant at Longbridge, calls for a greater commitment to regenerating the area which still suffers the effects of Rover’s closure.
Today sees the long awaited publication of the Inquiry into the collapse of MG Rover. Its contents have been kept strictly under wraps until now. Like most other people, I will only find out what the report says when it is published. Whatever it concludes, as someone who has been closely involved with the Longbridge for nearly two decades, I am sure I will have things to say in response – about MG Rover, about the Phoenix years and about the events that led to the final collapse of the company in 2005. I’m equally sure I won’t be alone. Today’s newspapers, TV and radio stations will be full of people sharing their opinions on what happened to Longbridge.
At a practical level, I hope the publication of this report will speed up the Trust Fund money for workers who lost their jobs. The Directors of Phoenix Venture Holdings promised this back in 2005 but they are today saying that it could still take several months more for former workers to receive anything from the Trust Fund. My appeal to the Phoenix Directors is to get on with it as quickly as possible. Their former employees deserve no less.
I also hope that – having taken so long and cost so much – today’s report addresses some of the unanswered questions that people have asked about MG Rover. This is important for public accountability and it is important to enable former MG Rover workers – and the people of South West Birmingham – to draw a line under all of this and move on.
Drawing a line under the past should not mean forgetting the massive contribution which Longbridge made to motor manufacturing in Birmingham for a hundred years. It was the home of the Mini and so many other iconic cars. That is not a heritage to be ashamed of. The best way we can celebrate that heritage today is to build a new and sustainable future for Longbridge, and for the economy of south west Birmingham as a whole.
Car making can still be part of that broader future. The days of mass manufacturing at Longbridge have gone for ever but the MG brand is still at Longbridge within the Shanghai Automotive (SAIC) group of companies. The global recession means that these are challenging times for every car company in every country. It is not surprising, therefore, that both production volumes and sales of the current MG TF sports car have been modest this year. SAIC, though, are well positioned to become a global player in the years to come and Longbridge can be the centre of their European operation. It makes sense for us to encourage SAIC to bring to Longbridge as much car assembly for the European market as possible.
However, car assembly is only part of the story. Research and development are just as important and SAIC has already based a key technical centre here in the West Midlands. With the right vision and cooperation between partners, that centre could play a major role in developing Longbridge as a focal point for addressing the low carbon future that the automotive industry has to embrace, and to link with the exciting work on low carbon technologies that is already taking place in universities right here in the West Midlands. In other words, we have the opportunity to make Longbridge a byword for innovation that goes well beyond the automotive industry.
The global recession means that these are challenging times for every car company in every country. It is not surprising, therefore, that both production volumes and sales of the current MG TF sports car have been modest this year. SAIC, though, are well positioned to become a global player in the years to come and Longbridge can be the centre of their European operation. It makes sense for us to encourage SAIC to bring to Longbridge as much car assembly for the European market as possible.” Richard Burden MP, Birmingham Northfield
The redevelopment of the Longbridge site is one of the biggest regeneration projects in the country. Last month’s confirmation of funding for Bournville College to relocate into a futuristic new building at Longbridge must be used to put high skills at the centre of the new Longbridge’s offer to local people and potential investors.
However, we still need much more commitment to practical action from a number of key players to make the Longbridge vision a reality. Here are just a couple of examples. First, Longbridge is close to the motorway network and has rail links going right up to the development site but the networking of bus and rail links in the area remains haphazard. Longbridge railway station is simply not fit for purpose in the 21st century.
We urgently need a much more ambitious plan for a state-of-the-art transport interchange than has so far been put forward by Centro. Second, Birmingham City Council could do more to demonstrate its own commitment to Longbridge as a priority for regeneration. The Longbridge project should no longer be a kind of poor relation to the “Big City Plan” which the Council so actively promotes for the centre of town.
We also all need to remember that, as well as delivering for our regional economy, the new Longbridge has to deliver for the people who actually live in south west Birmingham. It has to deliver for those for whom “the Austin” has always been part of their identity.
Yes, people living around the plant have been consulted on plans for the new Longbridge, but local people now deserve a more direct stake in the redevelopment; a stake that enables them to determine their own priorities for the area and to make them happen in practice. The establishment of a community development trust with sustainable assets under the control of local people would help achieve that.
The creation of the new Longbridge is a 10-15 year project. The challenge is to start as we mean to go on.
[Source: Birmingham Post]