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Public square with cinema screen part of new vision for Birmingham's Eastside

Major regeneration plans for Eastside district would see Typhoo Wharf brought back to life, new public realm and city parks and cultural quarter with cinema screen

New plans to create a cultural quarter, pedestrianise roads and bring a historic tea factory back to use can be revealed today.

A masterplan, called 'Knowledge Hub', lays out a vision for new public spaces and a thriving area for start-up and growing businesses as part of the renaissance of Birmingham's Eastside.

Among the key aspects is a new future for the long-neglected Typhoo Wharf building in Digbeth - once the home of the legendary tea brand in the city until 1978 - while roads will be transformed to favour cyclists and walkers and encompass new public space.

A cultural area next to Millennium Point is also set to house a new digital screen to showcase art and film and the overall focus of the project is to create a place for education and innovation while acting as a magnet for enterprise and entrepreneurship.

Knowledge Hub brings together some of the city's leading educational establishments to enhance what is already a growing quarter of the city and will tap into the pending arrival of HS2 in Birmingham, expected in 2026.

The idea was germinated at Birmingham City University (BCU) which approached city consultancy Node Urban Design to create an over-arching vision and masterplan for the land - see video above for CGIs of potential projects.

It focuses on how it can bring people to the area and crucially keep them there which will in turn help businesses thrive.

Pic: Node/BCU Jennens Road could be re-drawn to house the pedestrian friendly 'Jennens Park'
Jennens Road could be re-drawn to house the pedestrian friendly 'Jennens Park'

Node's director Katie Kershaw, and current Birmingham Young Professional of the Year, said: "That area has been developed in a piecemeal fashion and there has been no real coherent strategy.

"This masterplan is about identifying the extent of the campus and also the vision for the future. In the immediate term, a large part of that is to do with the public realm, creating something which ties the whole area together.

"We've also looked at opportunities for the long term such as creating new buildings and areas of renewal.

"The employment opportunities with this are potentially huge when you consider the innovation and growth of small businesses.

"It's about fostering innovation, getting those start-up units and encouraging students to collaborate with one another as well as collaboration between educational establishments, innovation and businesses themselves.

"We want to create something that's completely individual to Birmingham."

Among the stakeholders in the project are BCU, Aston University, Birmingham Metropolitan College and Birmingham Ormiston Academy - all of which are based nearby.

The Knowledge Hub is divided into seven sections (see panel and map below), all near the proposed HS2 station and the area encompassing Millennium Point, BCU's developing campus in Curzon Street and the Digbeth Branch Canal.

Typhoo Wharf is a key element of the masterplan which could be partially demolished and also renovated to bring the former tea factory back into use.

The seven-acre site in Bordesley Street would have a mix of uses aimed at both the daytime and evening economies including bars and restaurants and offer greater access to the canal which the site backs onto.

Pic: Node/BCU A cultural hub with cinema screen could be built next to Millennium Point
A cultural hub with cinema screen could be built next to Millennium Point

Another significant part of the hub masterplan is Jennens Road behind Millennium Point - well known to the city's runners as the launchpad for the 10k and half marathon races last year.

The vision is to create Jennens Park - a pedestrian and cyclist friendly area which would also see the road shrink down to one lane in each direction for private cars alongside bus lanes.

Node's senior landscape architect Dan Martyr said roads such as this and James Watt Queensway created a physical barrier to Knowledge Hub which would be addressed as part of the public realm works.

He said: "There has been a team of architects looking at the Typhoo building and it would house arts and arts students and incubation units for businesses and feed into Digbeth being the city's creative quarter.

"It would be somewhere they could create art in a studio space and then sell it. There would also be outlets and cafés."

He added: "Jennens Road is actually a huge opportunity to create a city park. You have this area with trees and grass but it's all in the middle of the road and no-one can use it. If you put that on the side and still had as much road, it would be better.

"But, if you reduce the road, which you can do because it's not that busy, you are reclaiming all of this land which could be used for other things.

"It brings people into the area, slows them down and then they stay for longer and bring their wallets. At the moment, people are just walking through.

"I'm pretty sure you would not have this same footfall in Eastside without Eastside City Park."

Birmingham City Council will present Knowledge Hub to investors and delegates at international property conference MIPIM in Cannes later this month, one of several city projects which will be showcased in France.

Eastside City Park has had a transformational effect since it opened in 2013
Eastside City Park has had a transformational effect since it opened in 2013

The development, likely to cost in the tens of millions to fund and at least a decade to complete, is expected to create thousands of jobs through both construction and new commercial space available to businesses.

Although the project is at the very early stages, it has already attracted the attention of the Treasury, which is discussing whether it can offer funding towards it.

BCU's vice-chancellor Professor Cliff Allan said: "The Knowledge Hub concept builds on the enormous strengths of a constellation of neighbouring institutions, universities, colleges, academies and innovation space so that we become a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

"The Knowledge Hub will become a magnet for enterprise, entrepreneurship, innovation, well being, culture and business exchange, connecting with the new developments of the Curzon and Big City masterplans. It will transform the Eastside of Birmingham."

Managing director of Node Nigel Wakefield added: "The Knowledge Hub has the potential to be a ground breaking masterplan for this significant part of Birmingham with benefits for the city as a whole.

"Node is delighted to have been involved in this innovative project, working collaboratively with Birmingham City University and other key stakeholders to create a visionary scheme that puts people at its heart."

● The seven proposed areas of Knowledge Hub

Corporation Plaza - arrival area at the boundary of the Knowledge Hub

- Prioritise spaces for pedestrians and cyclists

- Create new public square that changes the character of James Watt Queensway

- Narrowing of Corporation Street

- New trees, seats and water features

- Opportunity for new landmark buildings in the longer term

Aston Square - in the heart of Aston University's campus

- Meeting space that gives pedestrians and cyclists priority

- Pavilion with information point and café

- Electric recharging point

- Potential new entrance to Aston University with new building and entrance plaza

Jennens Park - Jennens Road regeneration

- Jennens Road to be transformed into a new park

- Reducing the width of the carriageway from four lanes to two

- Create new pedestrian routes

- Providing healthy places to eat and cycle changing facilities

Cinema Square - A neglected space next to Millennium Point and Birmingham City University

- Focus on entertainment, events and markets

- New bridge line from the conservatoire to the central square

- Digital screen for art and film

- Place where students and others can exhibit and sell their work

Curzon Street - Extension to Eastside City Park

- Provide improved links to development as part of HS2, Eastside Locks and canal network

- Prioritise pedestrians and cyclists on Curzon Street

- Pavilions to provide opportunities for enterprise and meeting places

Eastside Locks - Goodman's regeneration of vacant land next to BCU (under way)

- Protection heritage assets including the Canal Keeper's cottage

- Creation of art and lighting installation to enliven the tunnels and key spaces along the canal

Typhoo Wharf - former factory site in Bordesley Street, Digbeth

- Create new destination in its own right through mixed-use development and innovation hub

- Mix of uses to create activity at different times of the day

- Greater access to the water's edge and along the canal

- Public space with bars, restaurants and active uses at ground floor

- Internal atrium through former Typhoo Wharf building to provide an improved link from Bordesley Street

Pic: Node/BCU Map shows how the seven elements of Knowledge Hub fit into Eastside district
Map shows how the seven elements of Knowledge Hub fit into Eastside district

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