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An ambitious multi-million pound scheme to transform the Castle Hill and Zoo area of Dudley to rejuvenate and reposition the town as a high-profile regional tourist attraction, breathing new life into high street shops and businesses, has moved a step closer after Advantage West Midlands gave its commitment to provide funding.

John Edwards, Chief Executive of Advantage West Midlands, today met with key partners from Dudley Council, St Modwen and Dudley Zoo at one of the sites due for a major facelift as part of the scheme – the derelict Freightliner depot which has been empty since the 1980s.

Advantage West Midlands is providing more than £5 million towards the £38.7 million project, which is expected to create nearly 650 jobs. As part of the Castle Hill scheme, a phased series of work will see:

* Dudley Zoo and Castle redeveloped to include a tropical dome, Asiatic forest, two aquatic facilities and walkthrough aviaries.

* Heritage shops, restaurants and a major garden centre built on the 60 acres of land released at the base of Castle Hill on the site of the former rail depot.

* A new natural history, science-based attraction created, called ‘Origins’.

* Land released for a new development of homes and apartments, crèche and leisure facilities, bars and restaurants.

There are also plans for new car parking, an additional Metro stop, an internal miniature railway connecting the Zoo and Origins sites to the Black Country Living Museum and Dudley canal Trust attractions, improvements to Peggy’s Meadow and a secure woodland work.

The project will be managed by Castle Hill Dudley Limited, a joint venture company between St Modwen and Dudley Council.The scheme fits in with the findings of the Black Country Study, which identified Dudley as having an important new role to play as a tourist destination, reversing the decline of town centre trading brought about by the success of the nearby Merry Hill shopping centre.

John Edwards, Chief Executive of Advantage West Midlands, said: “Communities need thriving town centres at their core and this is a magnificent opportunity for Dudley to position itself as a world-class tourism attraction, creating new jobs for local people.

“Dudley is one of the key gateways into the region and I’m proud to support a scheme that promotes the heritage and history of Zoo and Castle at the same time as developing attractions with a 21st century appeal.

“All this could not be achieved without effective team work and the Agency is working alongside a powerful and innovative public and private sector partnership to ensure that Dudley plays its part in making the West Midlands a region in which to invest, work, learn visit and live and the most successful in creating wealth to benefit all of its people.”

John Woodall of Dudley Council said: “This is a major step forward in the long term development plans for Dudley town centre and for this long under used site in particular. “We are delighted that AWM shares the council’s confidence in the borough’s future.”

Anthony Glossop, Chairman of St Modwen, said: “We are very pleased with this confirmation of support from Advantage West Midlands which brings us one step closer to being able to start.

“A number of issues need to be resolved on our planning conditions and the final agreement settled with the Zoo. We have continuing confidence in the project and hope to start on site later this year.”

Peter Suddock, of Dudley Zoo, said: “We welcome the funding from Advantage West Midlands to assist in the development of this leading award-winning Black Country attraction.

“It takes us to the next phase of development to ensure Dudley Zoological Gardens’ important conservation and education continues.

“The Zoo and Castle is a key part of the regional agenda for the growth in the visitor economy and this investment will move us forward in our aims to provide the very best for visitors.”

Notes to editors

Issued by Advantage West Midlands (AWM) on behalf of all parties.

AWM is one of nine Regional Development Agencies in England whose role is to provide leadership and action to create more, better jobs and an improved quality of life for all in the West Midlands.

For more media information or images please contact Phil Brown on 0121 503 3402