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Giant plaza called Festival Square aims to become Birmingham's version of South Bank

The square – which is so large you can fit the entire German Market in it – aims to become an exemplar for international cities

An artist's impression of how Festival Square, part of the Birmingham Smithfield regeneration site, will look when in full flow
An artist's impression of how Festival Square, part of the Birmingham Smithfield regeneration site, will look when in full flow

A giant new public plaza called Festival Square is at the heart of new Birmingham Smithfield plans.

The square – which is so large you can fit the entire German Market in it – aims to become an exemplar for international cities, according to Richard Cowell, head of city centre development and planning at the city council.

The area, which is the size of Centenary Square, will look out to a new museum, culture centres, markets, hotels and soon-to-be-unveiled leisure opportunities, which could potentially be activity centres or ice rinks.

Mr Cowell said the square had been designed to host big exhibitions, big wheels or concerts.

He said: “You have got the markets in Rotterdam, Ramblas in Barcelona, public art in Chicago – different offers around the world – we want Birmingham Smithfield to sit alongside them, with that kind of vision.

“When people are doing things like this in the future, we want them to use Birmingham Smithfield as the example. That is what we should be aspiring to.”

He said if there is a comparable area in the country, it is the South Bank in London, home to theatres, activity centres and the London Eye.

An artist's impression of plans for Festival Square, part of the Birmingham Smithfield regeneration scheme
An artist's impression of plans for Festival Square, part of the Birmingham Smithfield regeneration scheme

He said: “If you go to South Bank of London around the Eye, where you have a mixture of attractions the aquarium, various Merlin offers – not just cinemas and bowling alleys but more than that. Maybe not quite a theme park but more like that.

“There’s all sorts of adventure activity stuff we could bring here.”

Council director of economy Waheed Nazir said: “To give you a sense of the size of the square, you could fit the whole of the German Markets there, that is how big it is.

“That shows the scale of the ambition. You wouldn’t normally see something like this in Birmingham, or anywhere outside London.

“This will really become a focal point and the scale of the square will allow different activities at the same time but just a vibrant space with activity spilling out.”

He added: “We want the market to be selling oysters and champage in the evening after selling fish in the day.

“Having activity 24 hours a day is central to our plans.

“They do it in Brixton and a number of European places where they shift and create a different target audience later on.

“At the moment it is a desert after 7pm but we want it to be a real focal point.”

Another feature of the Smithfield plan is Market Street – a pedestrian boulevard with cafes and restaurants spilling out onto the street.

Mr Cowell added: “We don’t have anything like Market Street in Birmingham at the moment – with all that activity spilling out onto the street.

“We want to get some of that back into the city – we should have at least one, and hopefully more things like this in Digbeth in time.”

Birmingham Smithfield timeline

1166

Royal Charter gained by Peter de Birmingham to hold a market at his castle by King Henry II.

1500s

Ideally located near the River Rea, the city emerged as a centre for iron merchants, attracting skilled craftsmen to trade at the market.

1700

Well established as a commercial centre, Birmingham is now the fifth largest city in England and Wales.

1731

Market develops and expands from primarily cloth and meat trade to include cattle, horses, corn and food.

1816

Peter de Bermingham’s manor house demolished to make way for the construction of the Birmingham Smithfield market.

1835

Fish market constructed, housing 600 stalls.

1848

Corn market moved to the corn exchange on Carrs Lane, the Bull Ring develops as the city’s main retail area.

1869

Covered vegetable market and fish market added to Birmingham Smithfield market.

1940

Market partially destroyed during Second World War bombing of New Street, leaving it an empty shell.

1960

After operating as an open market since its bombing, the original market hall was demolished and the Bullring site redeveloped as a shopping centre.

1962

Outdoor market opened with 150 stalls.

1975

Construction of the Birmingham Wholesale markets.

1980

A dip on retail and trade growth in the city led to proposals for the Bull Ring to be developed.

2004

New Bullring shopping centre opened.

2015

Birmingham Smithfield Visioning Document launched.

2016

Birmingham Smithfield Masterplan launched.

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