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Walsall seeks more quality in £25m design competition

Walsall will next month launch a £25 million urban design competition for four key sites, after its council chiefs demanded that design should play a greater part in the planning process.

Walsall borough council has approached the RIBA, CABE and the Royal Town Planning Institute for advice on running the competition, which will be fought out between a shortlist of six architects.

'We're looking to get design on the agenda and make design much more central to the planning process, ' said head of Walsall's new property and development unit, Brian Pell.

The move is a further boost for architecture in the West Midlands town following the completion of the critically acclaimed Walsall Art Gallery designed by Caruso St John. Pell stressed that the competition was about 'low-key projects' rather than landmark buildings and competitors would be asked to produce strategies rather than detailed design work. Each architect will be asked to produce design strategies for four sites and get an honorarium of £2000£3000. The winner may receive a contract and fee worth around £50,000.

The projects are a £1 million regeneration of the run-down industrial area of Willenhall with new work and residential units, investments in Bloxwitch town centre, a retail and leisure centre development, and a study of development opportunities around the Walsall ring road. A draft brief has been prepared and the council is expected to rubberstamp funding later this month. Entries will then be invited, a shortlist selected and a decision on a winner will be made in November.

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