Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Merry Hell
Thirty years ago Britain still had some industry but it was disappearing fast - motor cycles, shipbuilding, photocopiers, steel - all were being subsumed by Japan and other countries with a more supportive government or financial sector. We are now reaping the bitter harvest of the laissez-faire government coupled with bankers turned gamblers. Before this degeneration became irreversible the government introduced Enterprise Zones to attract new industry to areas blighted by the loss of traditional industry. The Round Oak steel works near Brierley Hill closed in 1982 and Dudley Council established an Enterprise Zone. Unfortunately, like so many others, the ten-year holiday from business rates attracted developers of commercial and residential property rather than industry. However large the shopping centre, it is never going to contribute to the GDP. What really upset the residents around here was that, as its name reflects, this shopping centre was built on the site of Merry Hill Farm, not Round Oak Steelworks. The office development on that site did arrive but some time later. Some time before its closure the steelworks were permitted to use Merry Hill Farm for tipping waste. This was masked from local eyes by landscaping embankments around the site.
When construction of the shopping centre commenced the embankments were levelled resulting in the closure of the Dudley Canal for some years, I believe, until the channel could be stabilised. I remember cruising through the area soon after the canal re-opened.
At the time I was unaware of the controversy surrounding the development but I was impressed then and on subsequent cruises by the monorail which was to carry shoppers form the car park (now with a capacity for 8000 cars!) to the roof of M&S. That seems to have been an expensive failure. £22m and five years later it was dismantled amid concern over its safety. The station on top of M&S is still there but the service is atrocious.

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