A radical rethink is needed to transform Birmingham's historic Jewellery Quarter into a mixed-use urban village, says a senior commercial property expert.
Businesses who want to relocate from this unique part of the city should be encouraged to do so, according to Malcolm Gloster, partner in charge at the Birmingham office of GVA Grimley.
The space they leave behind could then be freed up for more mixed-use development, including the kind of schemes that are blocked by current planning restrictions. Mr Gloster stresses that he wants to see the sensitive regeneration of the Jewellery Quarter as much as the next man but is concerned about planning restrictions which could impede what he described as neccessary development.
He says: "Much more needs to be done to deliver the vision of a mixed-use urban village for the Jewellery Quarter.
"When the maximum target of 2,100 new homes in the Hockley area was reached far more quickly than anticipated, the city designated it a conservation area, putting in place planning restrictions to slow down housing development.
"While this was done with the best intentions, to help preserve the indigenous industry - namely jewellery - from wholesale residential development, it inadvertently brought to a halt the potential for true regeneration and deterred many of the developers who are so critical to the process."
The main problem, according to Mr Gloster, is that of infrastructure - or, rather, the lack of it. Some new housing schemes have taken shape cheek by jowl with small office, industrial and manufacturing businesses and a number of bars and restaurants.
"But there isn't a major food retailer medical centre, local community centre or any other form of infrastructure which would help the Jewellery Quarter become a true urban village," he says.
"With another layer of hold-ups and restrictions to wade through, the commercial and residential developers who could provide these facilities either directly or through section 106 agreements, could not see any commitment from the city to revitalise the area and started looking elsewhere.
"This is not the only issue. Many businesses in the Jewellery Quarter are not connected to the jewellery industry in any way. They often occupy old, inefficient premises which, while not suitable for their trade, would be entirely suitable for development or refurbishment for residential and other uses."
According to Mr Gloster, many of these businesses have made this point and would willingly relocate from the Jewellery Quarter to purpose-built premises elsewhere - the Tyburn and Kingsbury Road areas have been suggested.
"The space they leave behind could be freed up for mixed use development including residential which is so critical to help fund the other less viable uses that will complement the development of the Jewellery Quarter as an urban village," says Mr Gloster.
"The Jewellery Quarter has wonderful potential. It could offer a true mix of residential property, from social housing to top-end apartments which, with the existing flourishing jewellery retailing and the other retail and leisure uses that could be attracted, would offer a proper village atmosphere akin to some of the socalled village centres in London.
"It could become a focus for destination shopping with specialist boutiques, coffee shops and bars, plus day-to-day shops, a chemist, a doctor's surgery, childcare facilities and so on.
"But in order to encourage this, the planners need to welcome both retail and residential developers, which in turn will attract the niche retail and leisure operators. Together, all are needed to create a rich and varied business and lifestyle environment.
"What is needed to support it is a radical initiative from the city council. This would see those businesses wishing to relocate being actively assisted in doing so.
"It would also see a more open-door policy for developers, sending out a genuine signal that will help encourage them back into this part of Birmingham."
Katherine Blunden, planning specialist with Drivers Jonas in Birmingham, says that balance is the key to successful change in the Quarter.
"Once overlooked by developers and occupiers alike, the area now abounds with activity and, hailed as an architectural gem, is merging as a stylish extension to the city centre - one that offers an alternative and vibrant urban environment," she says.
"It's an area of true historic and cultural importance in Birmingham, and key to its evolution is the need to ensure that new development respects its strong historical form, including its architecture, street layouts and mix of uses."
Brendan Casserley, rights of light specialist with DJ, says: "Birmingham City Council has so far approached the development of this area in a low-key traditional way, on a site-by-site basis, using a regeneration strategy to promote new development.
"The densely packed nature of the Jewellery Quarter, with small plots and multi-storied buildings in close proximity to lower-level properties, often means that rights of light can play a major part in development issues.
"Homeowners are also much more protective of their light and so the influx of residential use is likely to make rights of light and party all issues relevant to many developments."
Ms Blunden says: "Moving forward is vital to the life of the Jewellery Quarter and it is accepted by all that the historical form and character of the Jewellery Quarter must be preserved.
"But, to create a truly integrated community, we must ensure a balance is found between maintaining the physical relationship of new developments with existing buildings.
"A balance which does not slow development but which also guarantees regeneration is not hampered by policies designed to protect the heritage of the area."