Tony Jemmett of property assets consultancy Bruton Knowles looks at the transport issues arising from the renaissance of Birmingham city centre.
If the economy isn't a great deal stronger, transport problems could be the final straw to make developers more cautious about pushing these projects ahead on time.
Whether you are trying to get into, out of, or just past Birmingham you are likely to grind to a halt at some point, along with thousands of other travellers who each day complain about the transport infrastructure which is blighting their lives.
With billions of pounds already spent in regenerating Birmingham and multi-million pound investment continuing at pace, property occupation and development could be seriously affected if real transport change and improvement isn't witnessed soon.
With the opening of the Bullring this month we are at real risk of witnessing closures at New Street station on a regular basis, which would be disastrous for the travelling public and potentially damaging for the commercial property market. For a city of our size we will be hard pressed to compete with other major national and international commercial centres for inward investment if we cannot show that our infrastructure is able to cope, it is rapidly becoming our Achilles heel.
In the very short term this is not as is less than buoyant and there is little vacant space in Birmingham city centre at the moment.
However, next year will be a different matter. We are due to see some major new projects coming into fruition, offering anything from 80,000 to 200,000 sq ft of space in need of occupation, but we will not be able to point to instant transport solutions. If the economy isn't a great deal stronger, transport problems could be the final straw to make developers more cautious about pushing these projects ahead on time.
The city has progressed some key transport initiatives like the refurbishment of Moor Street station, but this is not enough and it doesn't provide a timely solution.
It will be at least two more years before Moor Street will be fully functional and able to make a difference to our transport problems, but this is also only scratching the surface if we don't tackle New Street soon. And when we do tackle New Street we must be careful not to just decorate the problem.
We must look at the issues of volume and capacity which are caused by having just two main tracks handling all of the incoming, outgoing and ongoing trains.
Developers may also start questioning the returns on investment if their major projects, designed to pull in a wide catchment, cannot be easily accessed. The Bullring is very much a regional project rather than just a city amenity. Attracting visitors from across the East and West Midlands on a regular basis the centre is going to rely heavily on public transport because there are 3,000 parking spaces and over 8,000 staff before you even begin to add in thousands of visitors.
In recent weeks we have witnessed the transformation of the road network in order to accommodate Birmingham's first Bus Mall ready to support expected flows of visitor traffic to the Bullring.
This is a positive step forward and a good demonstration of stakeholders joining forces to support major projects, but the bus network in isolation isn't enough. Whether it is an underground or a tram network like the Metro, we desperately need an alternative to the buses that would suit a much broader base of travellers and provide much missed additional capacity.
This is important not only for existing visitors and commuters but also if we are going to provide a credible lternative location to London for many businesses. In a survey earlier this year it was made clear that problems with transport would be the key areas o n t h a t m a n y occupiers didn't see themselves still being based in London in 5 to 10 years time. If Birmingham is going to capitalise on this opportunity we have to be able to prove that occupiers will not be paying thousands of pounds in relocation costs just to face the same kind of issues elsewhere.
I can appreciate the desire not to rush through new initiatives, we have seen in the past how projects like the Inner Ring Road, which appear to be a solution, ultimately only turn out to be a long term frustration and another problem to solve. But when businesses relocate to a new city it is usually not a short-term commitment because of the cost and logistical demands of doing so. So we do not need to be able to wave a magic wand to create instant solutions, but we must be able to point to a clear plan of action, with funding in place and City Council or Central Government approval, if we are going to secure occupier faith and commitment.
And when it comes to making changes we may not have to cope with decades of upheaval. Upgrading our city's infrastructure may seem like an ominous task but it is possible to overhaul a city in a relatively reasonable period of time. Cities like Leipsig have implemented significantly positive improvements to much of their transport network in only 5 years. They accepted the pain of the process and pushed through a major programme to tackle all of their key problems. As a city, Birmingham has shown that it is able to do this when it comes to making large, even phenomenal developments a reality, so surely with public and private sector commitment and expertise we can cure our transport ills.