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The year ahead could herald great change in Solihull politically and economically, with Brexit looming and a public vote for the new Metro Mayor due to take place in May. At a local level, visitors to the town centre will see changes to Mell Square and Touchwood as the two key centers continue to be redeveloped. Here, we ask some of Solihull's key business and political leaders to share their hopes and expectations for 2017:

Councillor Bob Sleigh - Leader of Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council

Cllr Bob Sleigh is leader of Solihull Metropolitan Borough Council and Chairman of the West Midlands Combined Authority and is one of the region's leaders who will be playing a key role in devolution discussions with the Government.

Looking ahead to 2017, there is much to get excited about, if like me, you want the borough to continue to prosper.

Work is likely to start on HS2. It recently received further government backing and Royal Assent (where an act of parliament becomes a law) is expected by the end of 2016. When complete, Solihull will sit at the heart of a UK high speed rail network, the first HS2 station outside of London.

HS2 will benefit Solihull and the region. Recent figures show that we have the fastest growing employment in the country after London, a trend that can only continue during construction and beyond.

I know the Prime Minister sees the West Midlands as vital to rebalancing the UK economy. Solihull already contributes £5.1billion to UK GDP. As part of the West Midlands Combined Authority we have ambitious plans to deliver major investment to see the West Midlands grow.

We have secured the biggest devolution agreement in the country, which will see £636 million of investment into transport infrastructure in Solihull alone. These plans will unlock £8billion into the region in the years ahead, delivering the means to finance our goal of creating half a million new jobs. Our Strategic Economic Plan for the West Midlands is not just good for local people and businesses, but for the UK as a whole.

And Solihull will play a central part in this through UK Central, our own growth strategy. This will see the expansion of Touchwood in Solihull town centre, continuing developments at Chelmund's Cross Village Centre, plans for a Midland Metro network in North Solihull and developments at Blythe Valley Park.

In early May, we will see the election of a new mayor for the West Midlands. I look forward to working with whoever is elected. We all want a strong voice for the region; an ambassador; someone selling the area on the global stage and our champion for dealing with government.

The challenge for Solihull Council, with our partners, is to make the most of these fantastic opportunities. Working together we can deliver prosperity and make sure Solihull continues to be the wonderful place it is to live and work, with the best quality of life in Engalnd.* (*2015 uSwitch Best Places to Live in The UK Quality of Life Index)

Here's to 2017.

Melanie Palmer - Director, Solihull BID

Solihull BID has delivered significant changes to Solihull town centre since its inception in 2010 and this year we will be working together with our key partners to evolve those plans further.

Visitors to the town centre have ever changing needs, the digital 'shop from your armchair' culture means we must offer something tangible, exciting and unique to ensure our visitor numbers and businesses continue to thrive.

The improvement of our food, drink and entertainment offer will play a vital part in retaining visitors and attracting new footfall.

2017 kick starts the new innovative developments for Touchwood and Mell Square. The local economy will also start to show its hand after the absorption of changes such as Brexit, a new Mayor for the West Midlands, the strong devolution agreement and UK Central's continued investment surrounding HS2.

These changes mean we need to react carefully to ensure we not only protect the current businesses within the town centre but continue to attract inward investment too, this needs to be supported by the sensitive placement of a town centre residential offer.

I am confident that working together with our key partners in 2017 means we can develop and nurture Solihull town centre to become future proof and remain that champion of the Midlands that we all know and love and our community will continue to be united in success.

 

​Stephen Goldstein CBE DL - Chief Executive Officer of Alexander Stevens

​Stephen Goldstein CBE D is Chief Executive Officer of Alexander Stevens Real Estate advisors based in the historic Malvern House on New Road. Stephen is also founder of the Mad Hatters' Children's Charity, which helps children with special educational needs and disabilities.

It's great that there is an active investor in Mell Square in IM Properties, who have to have a great relationship with Solihull Council, which owns the square itself.

There's a big independent scene in Drury Arcade, and I would love to see more. There are lots of entrepreneurs who would like to have a go at their own business. I'd like to see more of that in Solihull.

I would like to see the centre of Solihull, Mell Square, becoming an open piazza, an activity place. We could do so much every weekend. For example, antiques markets with street life and street theatre, like the recent summer events it actually could become a destination and a tourist attraction.

The new Carluccio's restaurant is going to be a massive boost for that end of the High Street, which will have a rebirth because it is a little out in the wilderness right now.

From a regional perspective, the biggest impact on Solihull is how near we are to London, and it is debatable whether that is good or bad.

HS2 is going to bring us even nearer. When you can buy the sort of houses in Solihull that would cost three times as much in a suburb of London, that makes us have to fight for our own personality. We will become a suburb of London for commuters. The combined authority? It has been done before with the West Midlands County Council. What is it going to bring to us? Another tier of bureaucracy? Another level of planning? That can't be good. People will invest somewhere else unless meaningful signals are put out that this is a good place to invest.

Regional devolution is good in many respects, but what power will the region get? The Mayor could be brilliant but I'm curious to know what power he or she will have and sincerely hope that with the combined authority they can work together for what should be the heart of the country.

 

​Susie Ankrett - Director, Plum Personnel

​Susie Ankrett is Director, Plum Personnel, which has been shortlisted for the Solihull Chamber of Commerce Business Awards. Susie looks ahead to 2017 with thoughts on how employers can keep hold of their best staff for the benefit of business and Solihull as a whole.

There's definitely a shift from skills to talent in recruitment. Clients are now looking for someone who can think strategically and work operationally, someone who can roll their sleeves up and get on with it.

There is a good skills base here and Solihull College has played a huge part in that. They've produced very good people and listened to what is going on in the business community to address that.

While you have a good skills base, you have high employment, but you also have a lot of people who aspire above what their skills are.

We need to deal with that level of dissatisfaction because more and more organisations are going down a narrow job profile. That develops frustration.

I hope organisations can see this and nurture their staff.

People want challenge, and once they have achieved the competencies their job requires they want more and the jobs aren't always able to offer more.

For 2017 and beyond I would like to see organisations take this into account. Businesses need to ask themselves 'how can we nurture and fulfill professional development aspirations?'.

It's in the best interest of businesses and the town and will help keep hold of the best people. People want to feel valued, and they want to be challenged. We want to keep the best people for the good of Solihull.

For example, there are many people with fantastic experience who need to work longer having had their pension pots pushed further away as well as an army of people with sought after skills and capabilities who are looking for part-time work.

There's a whole talent pool there that is going to waste. There's so much they can offer. These people could really add value to organisations.

I would like to see more organisations really embrace this talent for its experience and intelligence.

 

Lawrence Smith - Manager, The Core Theatre

​Lawrence Smith is Theatre Manager at The Core Theatre, which is part of the recently-refurbished Core community hub. Lawrence talks about his hopes for 2017; a year that will see people 'taking part'.

Following our refurbishment, which finished this year I have a calm sense of 'business as usual...but better' at The Core Theatre. We're now uniquely equipped to appeal to more people. We offer our local businesses staff training and conferencing facilities on their doorstep, plus local groups and societies have a central, friendly place to meet.

Aside from our varied professional programme of music, theatre, panto etc. there are other groups whose usage of the venue is less obvious but still vital. Young dance and music school pupils, who rehearse all year to don their sparkly costumes and perform in front of their proud families...it's a huge moment for them!

Our thriving Amateur Dramatic community is not just actors, but the wider entourage needed to produce great shows here. I've noticed a new vibrancy in Am-Dram world, with shows like; Acorn Antiques, Aida and Spam-a-lot...it's a great time to 'tread the boards' here!

Audiences invariably leave smiling, not just entertained, but with a positive view of Solihull and our venue. They'll notice something else...maybe a comedy night, a photography course or dance class and think "I'll be back" and they usually are.

My priority will be reorganising our daytime activity diary to include the new Courtyard Gallery which is now fully booked for the whole year...local artists now have a place to call their own. I love the way our classes and activities bring all ages together, whether a peaceful evening Pilates class or an Over-50s dance class. They'll sit around laughing and chatting in Encore Cafe afterwards with that buzz of well-being that you get from taking part with others.

In 2017 I want more people taking part...more laughing, dancing, stretching, listening, making, learning, much more meeting, singing, acting, watching...maybe I'll make it a New Year's resolution...my 'Core Law' that everyone does at least one of these each month at The Core Theatre.

 

Councillor Ian Courts - Solihull Council Deputy Leader

​Councillor Ian Courts is Solihull Council Deputy Leader and Lead Member for Managed Growth.

Four years ago, Solihull Council embraced the vision of the project that was to become UK Central (UKC). The concept underpinning this was that if the borough was to face the significant disruption that would come from HS2, then it was essential that the borough's scarce land resource is used more efficiently and productively than as a car park for the station.

Our track record shows we are a very successful borough. We have the fastest growing employment outside London, with 16% growth over the period 2010-2015, almost double that recorded from England or the West Midlands.

This is a place business can grow and our UKC growth plan will deliver even more business opportunities and jobs. The borough will capitalise on being home to the first high speed rail station outside London.

Despite this fantastic growth, Solihull has worked hard over the years to stay true to its motto of 'urbs in rure', with its precious Green Belt and 14 Green Flag parks.

Currently, the Council is working to refresh its Local Plan. A key component of the Plan will be deciding where new homes are allocated.

To understand the pressure for housing, just remember we are an ageing population. If average life expectancy is increasing, say, by 10 years, this alone represents a need for 15% more homes. This is reinforced by the fact that average household sizes are increasing too. Solihull is not immune to these national demographic trends, but with a growing population we are feeling them more keenly.

We want to ensure our environment credentials are maintained, whilst providing good value services to residents. This is exactly why we launched our Green Prospectus earlier this year, which addresses these issues.

We know that difficult decisions will be necessary. Development and economic growth are inevitable; but the Council's consistent approach is to treat economic growth and health and wellbeing as different sides of the same coin.

I'll be working with people across the borough to ensure these plans stay true to our motto 'urbs in rure' and preserve the qualities that make Solihull the best place to live and work.

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