Birmingham: towards a people-centred urbanism | Sir Albert Bore

Sir Albert Bore – Leader, Birmingham City Council

Sir Albert prefers the word ‘renaissance’, rather than regeneration. He says that renaissance is gathering a pace in Birmingham, partly due to the importance the city has placed on urban design and also the effect that the city centre redevelopment has had on the wider city.

Birmingham has always experienced rapid change. Post-war, car-orientated development led to the construction of a number of ring roads. However these ‘concrete collars’ became the limiting factor in Birmingham’s development; restricting growth and blocking pedestrian movement by putting people under and cars over. They were punched through in certain areas but this left a fragmented city centre with a confused public realm.

In a bid to tackle these issues, The Highbury Initiative was drawn up 1988 by representatives from all over the UK and overseas. The initiative was about the development of ‘cartier’ (or quarters), including the transformation of Victoria Square from a traffic island into pedestrianised public realm. Despite the results of this Highbury Initiative meeting being largely shelved, the process became the watershed for renaissance.

Since 1988, Initiative has grown into the Big City Plan 2010: a strategy to open up more of the city for people. This would normally be done through a supplementary planning document but Birmingham chose to simplify and clarify the message instead – in Sir Albert’s words, “articulating people’s wishes had more importance and status than a dry planning document … The community want a vision for their future city and it provides encouragement to developers and investors who have an understanding of that vision.”

In terms of tools to support the Big City Plan, the City Council now operates as part of the greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership, with 26 Enterprise Zones across the city centre. There is a potential £1,000m investment pot now available through business rates and Tax Incremental Finance. These processes are being used for funding gaps in new development and to relocate some infrastructure to create new places and settings, including the latest development at Birmingham Smithfield.

HS2 was the first ‘injection of pace’ with speculative Grade A office Development now occurring as a result. The next stage will involve dealing with the transport infrastructure. The Urban Mobility Plan will inject several billion pounds, bringing further investment at some point in the future. Without this, all the progress will be undone by congestion.

Great importance has been placed on urban design and this has been instrumental in changing Birmingham’s image, especially on an international scale. It is hoped that a clear message will be picked up that development will not lead to a reduction in the quality of the urban realm. Birmingham is open for business!

Words by Young Urbanists




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