Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council: Urban greening - West Bromwich outdoor market

The West Bromwich outdoor market redevelopment sought to improve the visual amenity of the area, deliver against the Council’s climate change agenda and increase the economic impact of the market, which is at the cultural heart of the town centre. Through the use of ground-breaking photovoltaic (PV) technology, the markets are now a net contributor to energy in the borough, in addition to being a distinctive market facility for traders. The scheme was shortlisted for The Energy Awards 2021, recognising its green credentials.


The challenge

West Bromwich’s outdoor market serves a wide range of local people and provides the opportunity for residents to access a variety of affordable products and produce that, in many cases, simply cannot be found elsewhere in the town. It is a longstanding and popular part of the town’s heritage and identity. COVID-19 has served to remind us of the importance of outdoor space, including outdoor retail space such as markets, and this is demonstrated by the fact that West Bromwich’s outdoor market was the first to open post lockdown and allowed people to begin stimulating the economy which had been lying dormant for months.

Through public consultation, it became clear that the outdoor market - in its current state - was detracting from the visual amenity of the area, was a crime and safety concern for the police given its propensity to make surveillance difficult, and was not befitting the modern, resilient town centre that Sandwell MBC and residents are striving to achieve.

Sandwell MBC has a council carbon neutral target of 2030 and a borough-wide carbon neutral target of 2041. To reach these targets, climate change must be a factor to tackle in all regeneration projects in Sandwell.

The project cost was £467,000, including the remediation of operational issues.

The solution

In late 2019, Sandwell was invited, along with 101 other towns, to participate in the £3.6bn Towns Fund programme introduced by the Ministry for Housing, Communities, and Local Government as part of the Government's levelling up agenda. Towns were invited to submit proposals up to £25m for projects that would target a number of socioeconomic drivers including regeneration, skills and employment. Sandwell’s inclusion was distinct in that the three towns chosen to feature in the programme made Sandwell second only to Cornwall in the number of towns selected. This is reflective of the challenging socioeconomic picture in Sandwell but represents a huge opportunity to drive regeneration and improve the outcomes for residents in our borough.

As part of the wider Towns Fund initiative, each town was eligible to apply for up to £750,000 to deliver accelerated, shovel ready projects that would set the stage for the wider investment to come. In West Bromwich, it was decided that the majority of the accelerated funding package should be allocated to the redevelopment of the Council’s poor-quality outdoor market.

As part of a wider Urban Greening Regeneration project in West Bromwich Town Centre, Sandwell Council has delivered an innovate, bespoke new market offer. This includes 36 new stalls, that addresses the concerns raised by local stakeholders and will, instead of detracting from the quality of place, be a net contributor to the town centre. Additionally, the space is a practical place for outdoor traders to use.

The market stalls feature a unique, transparent solar PV glass roof that generates renewable electricity from sunlight, ensuring regeneration of the outdoor market in West Bromwich contributes to wider climate action in Sandwell.

The project was managed by the Council's Regeneration and Markets teams respectively. The project was successfully delivered to a challenging timeline in the middle of a global pandemic. All stages required proactive project management and carefully considered creative solutions to be able to proceed through the necessary governance and procurement processes at pace.

“Polysolar worked on this project with Sandwell Council during the last lock down, designing and delivering the project from start to finish in 3 months. The council was both extremely creative and flexible enabling the project to proceed in difficult circumstances and at rapid speed”.

Polysolar
 

“Early virtual MS Teams meetings were invaluable in planning. This involved Sandwell MBC, Fitzgerald and PolySolar. The virtual meetings identified risks and opportunities, such as scheme requirements, more efficient installation methodology, interface, early works. Ongoing regular site meetings drove the scheme and identified any issues and concerns early, allowing for a timely mitigation action”.

Fitzgerald Construction Ltd

The impact

The new outdoor market has provided an enhanced space for traders and has improved the visual amenity of the area, making it a more attractive place for shoppers to use. It remains to be quantified but it is expected that this will have a positive impact on the number of users of the area and the amount of time those users are prepared to spend there, having a follow-on impact to neighbouring shops and the two shopping centres in an area that is struggling acutely with vacancies.

It was envisaged that the improved market offer should reflect Sandwell’s aspiration for the town centre and its wider ambitions around delivering cleaner, greener, more sustainable and equitable places to live, as per Sandwell’s Vision for 2030.

With that in mind, Sandwell pursued an innovative green tech solution which is the first application of its kind anywhere in the world. The project comprises the installation of 36 market stalls that incorporates Polysolar’s unique transparent solar PV glass roof that generates renewable energy from sunlight.

The project replaces traditional market stalls with an architecturally attractive, light and functional structure that act as a strong statement of support for high street regeneration and the environment. The 50 per cent light transmission glass roof canopy generates some 20,000 kWh of carbon free electricity annually, while allowing light to flood through to the stalls below. The solar PV glass further reduces the heat gain below, provides a safe and aesthetic environment while delivering clear free renewable energy that is used locally or fed back to the grid.

Sandwell have committed to monitor the amount of electricity generated through the PV panels. The anticipated 20,000 kWh is enough energy to brew 240,000 pots of tea, or one pot of tea per adult living in Sandwell courtesy of West Bromwich Outdoor Market.

How is the new approach being sustained?

The Council are working closely with all local stakeholders, but particularly market traders, to ensure all feedback is captured and that the market stalls not only contribute to the Council’s green agenda but also provide a practical and aesthetic home for traders well into the future.

The stalls continue to passively contribute electricity to the grid, with regular maintenance and cleaning delivered through the Council’s existing street cleaning programme. The scheme is now fully operational and requires no more input from officers than the previous iteration.

Lessons learned

Like all innovative initiatives there were inevitably improvements that arose as a result of feedback from the traders that needed to be addressed. The structure’s additional height and vaulted ceilings meant that strong draught winds were being experienced by traders. Furthermore, traders found that the new designs required additional brackets in order to display items.

The council addressed these issues by weatherproofing and further insulating the structures in order that traders are better isolated from the elements and additional brackets were installed. In a future scheme of a similar nature these items could have been addressed at the original design phase.

Contact

Alex Oxley, Planning Regeneration Officer: [email protected]

West Bromwich Outdoor Market in Sandwell