Network Rail has been accused of cutting corners on the £600 million landmark New Street redevelopment after scaling back plans for the second time this year.
The latest furore surrounds a revised planning application to retain and extend the old Navigation Street footbridge over tracks and platforms on the northern side of the station.
The bridge was initially due to be replaced and clad in the curved mirror-effect stainless steel canopy which dominates the rest of the new station design.
It was revealed earlier this year that globally respected architect Alejandro Zaero-Polo had walked away from the New Street Gateway project over changes to the original design for the station’s atrium.
But while a change in material on the atrium may go unnoticed when the station opens next year, the footbridge is a major feature on the Navigation Street elevation – leading to criticism from city architecture experts.
Architect and chief executive of Millennium Point Philip Singleton said: “This follows the rather unfortunate debacle of the original architect not completing the atrium.
“That seemed to escape proper public scrutiny on a project which is supposed to delight over 30 million passengers and shoppers a year.
“If serious changes are being made now to the external appearance too, we really should be told on what grounds. Is it about making savings and dumbing down the essence of a great idea?
“This should go before the Birmingham City Council planning committee and the people of Birmingham should have a chance to comment on this change. We should be proud of the place, not apologising for it.”
Network Rail has asked for permission to retain the footbridge saying that extensive works could delay the completion of the station by months or lead to the closure of the track for a period.
An application has been submitted to the city council’s planning department and is out for public consultation until May 22.
On his Birmingham Central blog, regeneration blogger Simon Felton said: “I find these proposals a little disheartening against the exciting vision we saw in the original design.
“Whether, if this application is approved, visitors and future residents will wonder why they didn’t finish the plan is a question only hindsight and time will tell.”
Network Rail has stated that the installation of extensive stainless steel cladding over an operational railway is “impractical” – given that work could only take place for a few hours at night.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “Birmingham City Council’s planning committee is currently looking at amended designs for the Navigation Street footbridge.
“The footbridge was not part of the original planning application in 2006, but was added in 2009 and it is this design which has been altered to avoid adding months onto the construction programme plus extended closures to the railway which would cause a large amount of disruption to the travelling public.
“The redevelopment of Birmingham New Street will give Birmingham a station fit for Britain’s second city and transform the passenger experience for the thousands of people who use New Street every day.”
The new plans were revealed in the week that Secretary of State for Transport Patrick McLoughlin visited to the construction site to check on progress.
Mr McLoughlin said: “I believe the improvements will be very good for Birmingham. It will almost be a destination in its own right.
“There will also be improvements in capacity so that more people can use the station.
“A key part of this government’s long-term economic plan is investing in world class infrastructure. That is why we are putting record amounts of government funding into our railways over the next five years.”
He added that the transformation is all the more remarkable because the station has remained open throughout.
Mr McLoughlin also highlighted a £16 billion investment in HS2 over the next five years. Asked about why the project will take until 2026 to be completed, Mr McLoughlin said he is being lobbied from both sides – those who want it sooner and those who want it stopped.
“We have got to get it right, plan it carefully and look at the environmental considerations. It opens in Birmingham in 12 years’ time and that is not a huge amount of time for a project on that scale.”