The future for the regeneration of Birmingham city centre has been unveiled – with work on the ground at Paradise Circus a matter of months away.
New images reveal a fundamental change to 17 acres of the city heartland, with several buildings and the tunnel under the old Central Library axed in favour of 1.8 million square feet of offices, shops and public space.
The latest designs show major changes to road layouts and improved pedestrian routes centred around a greener Chamberlain Square.
Work will begin on the £160 million first phase as early as May, with infrastructure work taking place early next year.
Business leaders have welcomed the plans as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to boost the city’s standing internationally.
Rob Groves, director of developer Argent, told the Post all major milestones have been passed – following a series of appeals to land acquisition and progress would be sharp.
He said: “Next year it will begin rapidly because we have a tight delivery programme.
“There is a shortage of office space in the city and after the next 18 months it is going to disappear.
“As a city we have got to create space for inward investors, so we need to get moving.”
He added: “We believe we have the land. We have all the details for all the free holdings, and I ended up at a CPO inquiry a few weeks ago which is the first one I have been involved with where all the objections were off the table in the first day.
“All we have got to do now is build the thing. We have proved there is a project. We have passed all the major milestones. Paradise Circus is happening and it is happening now.
“This is going to be a game-changer in the way that Birmingham is connected, and how it achieves the Big City Plan.”
The Paradise Circus development, which will finally see the demolition of the old Central Library, is the most fundamental regeneration project in the city centre for a generation.
The scheme will make a major contribution to the council’s vision for the city and is key to Birmingham’s new central enterprise zone and the delivery of the Big City Plan to expand the commercial district.
The first phase of the scheme will include a revised road layout, substantial new public space and provide more than 250,000 square feet of Grade A office space.
The latest images come just weeks after proposals were unveiled for the HS2 Curzon Street Station, which will regenerate another part of the city, but while that is still years away, the first two Paradise Circus buildings will be up by 2017 to 2018.
The new images reveal a clear sight line between the Chamberlain Clock Tower from the Hall of Memory in Centenary Square and better access from Chamberlain Square to the library.
The plans, which are initial designs, also show access to Summer Row without the library or the tunnel running underneath, with open routes reminiscent of the area before the redevelopment of the 1960s.
Mr Groves added: “The enterprise zone has been approved by Birmingham City Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership and there is no approval needed for the infrastructure.
“We are backed by the biggest pension fund in the UK and have been working with them for about 20 years.
“The region is picking up at the moment, and there is a lot of excitement. We can’t get these buildings up quick enough because we can’t lose another potential Deutsche Bank.
“I remember in the early 2000s when Bank Of New York was looking for a regional city. A building became available in Manchester and there wasn’t one they wanted in Birmingham so they went there.
“We have got to have the stock available.”
Work will now take place on clearing the area – including traffic diversions – for construction to take place.
Mr Groves added: “Hopefully today is the milestone we need to show the sceptics out there that Paradise Circus is real and will be delivered.”
The first phase will see about £160 million invested in total, with £120 million going on the first two buildings constructed.
Mr Groves said a big part of the early designs was on making the most out of attractive buildings like the Council House and the Hall of Memory.
The first projects to be constructed are being designed to complement those old buildings.
It has also been revealed that Glenn Howells Architects will design the building for 'Plot E', one of two to be built during the first phase. The Digbeth-based firm is also master planner for the scheme.
Four other firms have been listed in a competition to design the building for Plot D - Associated Architects, Allford Hall Monaghan Morris, Eric Parry and Piercy & Co - which will be the first built at Paradise Circus.
Dav Bansal, of Birmingham-based Glenn Howells, said a group of architects recently worked together to improve the public realm aspects of the new masterplan.
Central to that is a re-landscaped Centenary Square, and Mr Bansal said the success of the scheme would have real impact on the city’s reputation.
He said: “It was a fantastic opportunity to re-think about the spaces between the buildings and how they can improve on the masterplan and bring more to the scheme.
“It is an extremely important project to the city and its perception on a national and international stage.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we have got to get it right.
“It is about creating a place that people want to dwell, spend time and do business in and taking away the perception of what people think about Paradise at the moment.
“Birmingham has lost a lot of green spaces. This is a possibility in an urban location for people to enjoy the space,” he added.
The new visions for Paradise Circus were unveiled at a meeting of city businesspeople on Wednesday. It also saw Grant Associates architects revealed as the designers of the 17 acres of public space which will be incorporated into the project.
Mr Bansal said there was a host of ideas including a “Babylon for Birmingham” – a sunken Chamberlain Square with a large green area.
Grant Associates director Peter Chmiel said: “This is a high-profile project right in the heart of Birmingham and the public realm is a vital part of it. Grant Associates look forward to working with the team and will ensure that the public space creates the best possible setting for this development and its wider environment.”
Meanwhile, looking ahead to the competition to design the second building, Matthew Goer, director at Associated Architects said: “Paradise Circus is a milestone project that will completely revitalise the city centre and help deliver the vision of the Big City Plan. Associated Architects will use its understanding and appreciation of the site’s context and history to inform its approach.”