5 Retail and Commercial


5.1 Brierley Hill is situated at the heart of Dudley Borough, in the West Midlands and includes the Merry Hill Shopping Centre. The shopping centre opened in 1985 and is currently owned by The Westfield Group. Merry Hill is the largest retail centre within the Black Country, comprising 1.5 million sq ft retail floorspace and over 200 retail units - supporting an estimated 6,000 to 7,000 jobs.The centre attracts 21 million visitors every year and in total the area covers approximately 1.5 million sq. ft (139,355 sq. m). With an estimated comparison retail turnover of £583 million, the CACI Retail Footprint 2005 ranks Merry Hill 2nd in the West Midlands and 35th in the UK in terms of retail footprint. According to figures Merry Hill is some 50% larger than Wolverhampton and over twice as large as Walsall. Merry Hill is an established shopping facility with a strong catchment that reflects its sub-regional and regional significance.

5.2 The Merry Hill Shopping Centre has no designation in the current Dudley Unitary Development Plan (UDP), adopted October 2005, but is recognised in the Regional Spatial Strategy (RSS) for the West Midlands as an important out-of-centre regional shopping destination. As such, the relevant policy in the adopted UDP is CR9: Edge-of-Centre and Out-of-Centre Development. The future role of the Merry Hill Centre will be informed by the outcomes of the West Midlands RSS: Draft Phase One Revision – The Black Country Study, which, when adopted, will form part of the statutory development plan for the Borough.

Picture 12 Map of Merry Hill Shopping Centre (Popup full image) 

Picture 12 Map of Merry Hill Shopping Centre

Merry Hill Shopping Centre was developed in a number of stages. They can be summarised as follows:

1980 - The Round Oak Steelworks, which operated on the Merry Hill Site, closed.

1981 - The Merry Hill area was declared an Enterprise Zone.

1984 - The land occupied by the former Round Oak Steelworks was incorporated into the Enterprise Zone.

             Also in this year the redevelopment of the Waterfront area begins.

1985 - Phase 1 Merry Hill retail warehousing opened (Approximately 163,000 sq ft/ 15,143 sq m)

             Phase 2 Merry Hill shopping mall opened (Approximately 203,000 sq ft/ 18,859 sq m)

1986- Phase 3 Merry Hill retail warehousing opened (Approximately 214,000 sq ft/ 19,881 sq m)

1988 - Phase 4 Merry Hill shopping mall opened (Approximately 137,000 sq ft/ 12,728 sq m)

1989 - Phase 5 Merry Hill shopping mall opened (Approximately 818,000 sq ft/75,995 sq m)

1995 - Waterfront Complete

1996 - Phase 4 shopping mall redeveloped

1997 - Canal development started between Merry Hill and Brierley Hill High Street

1998 - A4036 traffic improvements completed

2002  -Pedestrian link between Merry Hill, the Dudley Canal and the Waterfront improved with the opening of Jubilee Walk

Retail Technical Documents supporting the Black Country Study

5.3 There is overwhelming survey and market evidence which demonstrates that Brierley Hill already performs a strategic role in the Black Country network of centres as a convenience / comparison and services shopping centre.; and a sub-regional focus for employment and leisure.

  • Study of Black Country Centres (GVA Grimley: August 2005)

5.4 The study sets out the context and background to the need for new floorspace in the sub-region and sets out assumptions about expenditure. Chapter 11 makes the case for Brierley Hill designation as a strategic centre and draws out the key issues and conclusions arising from the analysis of Brierley Hill. In retail terms the Merry Hill Centre ranked 24th in the UK and was the highest ranking Black Country centre.  GVA Grimley consider there is a clearly defined need for further growth of Brierley Hill as a strategic retail, leisure and employment centre if the Black Country is to achieve the level of economic growth assumed. 

5.5 Maintaining and enhancing the strategic function of Brierley Hill is line with the 'four centres strategy', by providing a balanced network of higher order strategic centres which are well placed to serve the needs of all Black Country residents.  and the continued growth of Birmingham and improvements in the other Black Country strategic centres will over time create a less balanced network, and necessitate Dudley residents travelling further a field for their strategic retail, leisure and employment needs.

  • Economic Impact of the Expansion of Brierley Hill/Merry Hill (Regeneris: April 2006)

5.6 Sets out the current role of Brierley Hill and assesses the overall implications for the Black Country of its expansion. Merry Hill has 14.2% of total Black Country catchment for comparison goods expenditure  and that overall 31.1% of all such spend leaked out of the Black Country. The study examines what would happen if the extra retail growth was not catered for by an expansion  of Merry Hill what would happen to this retail growth? Failure to maintain and enhance the established retail function of Brierley Hill would most likely result in a significant proportion of the spend leaking out of the Black Country to Birmingham.

  • Assessment of Future Market Shares & Accommodating Future Needs (White, Young, Green: May 2006)

5.7 The aim of the study is to assess the implications on shopping patterns within the Black Country Region if Merry Hill/Brierley Hill does not expand in the future and that no further retail development can be accommodated in Dudley. If the expenditure identified for Merry Hill/Brierley Hill and Dudley was lost from the catchment, it is evident that by 2021 the market share for all centres within the Black Country would fall from 48% in 2005 to 42%. Whilst this at face value may not look significant, given the amount  of expenditure available within the catchment  this fall in market share would amount to the loss of £517m by 2021. This equates to a loss of more than 118,000 shoppers within the Black Country which if we assume they undertake one non-food shopping trip per week would account to the loss of more than 6.1 million shoppers annually by 2021 within the Black Country sub-region.

5.8 Whilst this is anticipated to be the worst case scenario, it is evident that even if the expenditure which should have been captured by Merry Hill/Brierley Hill and Dudley is then redistributed equally to all centres within and outside the catchment it is evident that the leakage to competing centres would still represent  an additional loss of £329m per annum will be lost from the Black Country economy by 2021. Such levels of leakage have significant implications not only for future investments within the Black Country region but also the ability for the sub-region to develop more sustainable patterns of travel and avoid unnecessary journeys to competing centres elsewhere beyond the sub-region.

  • Assessment of Major Out of Centre Retail Outlets in the UK (White, Young, Green: May 2006)

5.9 The purpose of the study is to understand in detail how major regional shopping malls are being dealt with at the relevant local and regional level. The research has been undertaken primarily to understand whether or not the case being pursued in the Black Country to identify Merry Hill/Brierley Hill as an established town centre is unique and whether or not the circumstances against which this strategy has been developed are also unique or could easily be applied to other major regional shopping malls throughout the UK. 

5.10 In summary, the position being advanced for Brierley Hill is not unique. The out of town shopping centres which offer the best opportunity to integrate with the existing urban area, are accessible to all and offer significant regeneration benefits would appear to be in the strongest position in terms of justifying their status as established centres. It is significant to note that unlike Brent Cross, the future development at Merry Hill/Brierley Hill will result in a downgrade of an existing strategic centre (Dudley). Therefore, whilst the local strategy identified for Brierley Hill is not considered to be unique, it is evident that the spatial planning strategy of downgrading an existing centre is.

  • Investment Analysis & Future Investment Potential Of the Black Country Retail Centres (Chase & Partners: March 06)

5.11 Study looks at the implications should Brierley Hill not be designated and states that growth at MH/BH will be positive for the Black Country investment market. The Merry Hill centre is an important economic driver and retail facility for the Black Country as a whole. A larger and strengthened Merry hill centre which improves the general economy of the Black Country is more likely to improve the retailing facilities of Dudley and investor confidence in the town as a centre. The reason for this is that it is clear there is considerable leakage of expenditure away from the Black Country. By recapturing this expenditure, the individual towns which serve the Black Country population can tap into this greater retained expenditure potential  to increase economic expansion.

  •  The Complementary Centres Study (Dudley MBC: May 2006)

5.12 The study sets out that Dudley cannot accommodate retail growth to deliver strategic centre status. This technical study examines options and alternatives to the Brierley Hill option and concludes that there is no alternative option. The study demonstrates that the wider Brierley Hill area is best placed to perform the role of the strategic centres in the Borough and that this approach conforms with the objectives of the RSS and the underpinning objectives for town centres set out in PPS6. The study similarly demonstrates how the Brierley Hill would function and compliment the existing network of centres.

Further Comparison Retail Development

5.13 The importance of the retail sector to regeneration should not be underestimated. Retail expansion is the key ingredient needed to achieve the necessary investment to transform Brierley Hill into an integrated town centre. BHAAP can now (subject to proposed changes and adoption) plan to deliver the 51,000m comparison retail growth between 2004 and 2021 without phasing constraints. Policy PA11A: Brierley Hill/Merry Hill and Dudley in the Black Country Study clearly states that as a newly designated strategic town centre further retail growth is carefully conditioned. The policy requires 3 conditions to be met before that new retail floorspace becomes operational  and the doors are opened to shoppers. Those three conditions relate to:

  1. The adoption of an Area Action Plan for Brierley Hill which will define the Centre, and provide a clear framework for mixed use development, including residential and employment uses, public transport and phasing of development.

  2. The implementation of improvements to public transport, including completion of the Metro extension from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill (or other measures of equivalent effectiveness), improvements to bus services connecting the centre with other locations in the Black Country and beyond, and other measures to improve accessibility to and circulation within the centre by non-car modes; and

  3. Introduction of a car parking mangement regime including the use of parking charges compatible with those in the region's network of major centres.

5.14 Once these conditions have been met any further retail development at the new Brierley Hill strategic town centre will be subject to review and assessment of the progress of the strategy for regeneration and balanced growth. It is acknowledged that these figures may be revised through the Second Phase Review of West Midlands Regional Spatial Strategy.

5.15 Further retail development at Merry Hill will consolidate its established role as a sub-regional shopping centre and second largest retail centre in the region. Merry Hill will be defined as the primary shopping area to consolidate retail activity within the core area.  

Convenience Retail Shopping

5.16 The Panel Report finds that RSS does not create any limitations on convenience retail growth which is a matter that is left to LDDs, including BHAAP. The Joint Core Strategy will assess convenience floorspace needs and where those needs would best be met. The BHAAP will have to consider how and where within Brierley Hill such shops should be delivered to meet that need. Brierley Hill High Street plays an important convenience role and contributes to the vitality and viability of the area.

Commercial Activity within Brierley Hill


5.17 The Waterfront at Brierley Hill/Merry Hill has raised the profile of the Borough in providing a prestigious office location that previously did not exist in Dudley. The Waterfront office park comprises a large office development with 70,000m2 (753,200ft2) of commercial floorspace including offices, bars, restaurants, a health club, hotel and marina. The most recent estimate of employment is that there are some 5,200 people working at the Waterfront in the office and leisure activities. The Waterfront is identified as a strategic office location in the Black Country.

5.18 Employment patterns reflect the strategic importance of the Waterfront. The majority of the companies at the Waterfront are in the service industry, for example, The Inland Revenue, The Child Support Agency and telecommunications companies have located at the complex. Restrcutring, and particularly the rationalisation, of central and local government functions has played a large part in shaping the characteristics of the Waterfront. Also, the establishment of Training and Enterprise Councils have taken on various roles in economic development and training from local government.   All these organisations have been very significant in the success  of the Waterfront. The restructuring of these functions has meant that large amounts of office space is required and the Waterfront attracted the organisations by providing the quantity of space at a high quality with cheap and effective telecommunications.

5.19 17 companies were attracted to the Waterfront from outside the Borough or they are new starter companies. 11 of the 17 companies are "footloose" in that they could theoretically have located anywhere in the country but chose the Waterfront above other locations. If the Waterfront did not exist at the time these organisations were planning to set up new projects or locate another branch, then it is fair to conclude that Dudley would not have been able to offer the quantity of quality office space required by these organisations. Out of the 2050 jobs that the 17 mobile or new project companies created, approximately 34% of the jobs are taken by people who moved with their current employer to the Waterfront. Therefore, around 1350 new jobs have been created solely by new companies to the Borough.

5.20 The companies at the Waterfront are mostly service related and in general, the service industry is female dominated and therefore it is not surprising that two thirds of all employees at the Waterfront are female. The majority of women at the Waterfront are occupied in clerical, full time jobs. Overall, it appears that the Waterfront has replaced the male dominated manufacturing industry that existed previously at Round Oak Steel Works with female dominated service sector employment. In terms of employment it is clear that the Waterfront has made a major contribution to the well being and economic of the Borough. Over 2,700 people are employed at the Waterfront, of which half of these are new to the Borough.

  • Office Floorspace Documents supporting the Black Country Study

5.21 It is clear from the background papers that the office floorspace provision proposed in the Draft Phase One Revision reflects a policy driven approach for the economic transformation of the Black Country, including Brierley Hill. Not only is the overall growth target of 845,000 sq m between 2004 and 2021 a major increase over historic levels of development, its distribution concentrated on the 4 strategic centres would also be  a reversal  of previous trends towards out-of-centre 'office park' developments.

  • The Long-Term Economic and Employment Strategy for the Black Country (GHK; Feb 2005)

5.22 Utilised employment projections by Oxford Economic Forecasts. These projections indicated, for the preferred Vision Scenario, an increase of approximately 90,000 jobs in the offices sectors (principally in financial and business services and public administration) between 2003 and 2030. At current employment densities these generated a need for approximately 1.5 million sq.m of new office development over this period.

  • The Black Country Study Employment land Capacity Study (GVA Grimley; Sept 2005)

5.23 This incorporated generally consistent but more refined employment  projections (also from Oxford Economic Forecasts) which anticipated a growth of some 79,000 office jobs, 2003-31, and a consequent need for 1.45 million sq. m of new office development. Intermediate forecasts for 2003-21 indicated a growth of 48,000 office jobs in this shorter period, requiring around 880,000 sq.m of floorspace. Following some adjustment, principally to exclude those office jobs that occupy Class A2 retail floorspace, this gave rise to the 845,000 sq.m of (Class B1a) office floorspace quoted in proposed Policy UR1A.

  • The West Midlands Regional Centres Study (Roger Tym & Partners, March 2006)

5.24 Included forecasts of office employment  and floorspace capacity at regional, local authority and individual strategic centre level. The employment forecasts used where those of Cambridge Econometrics, which differed somewhat from the Oxford Economic Forecasts adopted for the economic strategy, including a narrower definition of the 'office' sector. Given the majority of scenarios assumed rather lower levels of economic growth in the Black Country  than did the economic strategy's favoured Vision it was concluded that the regional study forecasts were generally consistent with the order of magnitude of growth derived from the economic strategy - i.e. 845,000 sq.m of B1a office development.

Further Office Development

5.25 City and town centres will be the prime focus for office development and Brierley Hill is a particular catalyst for the Black Country as it is the second biggest office location in the region outside of Birmingham. The Strategy does not propose the provision of B1a led Business Parks as that would undermine the implementation of the centres led regeneration of the Black Country and would result in a less sustainable form of development.  The Panel Report acknowledges that the 186,000m2 office allocation for Brierley Hill is openly aspirational but also says that if one centre can achieve more than its share it should not be prevented from doing so. This will consolidate the role of the Waterfront as the principal location for high quality business development in the Borough. A policy steer was made that a equitable split was desirable for the same reasons as for retail - i.e. to assist the regeneration of the already vulnerable centres of Walsall and in particular West Bromwich.