TV’s most high profile property expert has claimed Birmingham could catch up with more celebrated European cities if ambitious plans to transform Paradise Circus are pulled off.
Broadcaster Kevin McCloud, who has hosted Channel 4’s Grand Designs for a decade, said if the city centre redevelopment works it could stand alongside other European cities like Dresden, which was rebuilt to its former glory after the war – but if it doesn’t it will be just another “place of windy concrete”.
Mr McCloud himself has worked “quite a lot” with architect Glenn Howells, who, along with developer Argent, have designed the masterplan for the Paradise Circus redesign.
The partners plan to create a series of new traffic-free streets and squares on the area around the current Central Library building while a broad mix of buildings are planned by various other architects.
“One of the most significant things about the Paradise scheme is that it puts pedestrians before traffic,” Mr McCloud said.
“People don’t like having to go through underpasses, people like to walk in straight lines.
“It will be interesting to see how it links with buildings beyond it.
“I really welcome the Paradise Circus initiative. It creates public realm, a space for people to enjoy, a pedestrian landscape which can be accessed and lived with in much greater liberty.
“Hansom’s Town Hall is the most wonderful temple.
“Being able to tie those buildings together, if it works out it, is going to be a place of public realm on a par with European cities like Dresden.
“If it doesn’t it’s going to be another place of windy and draughty concrete.”
Mr McCloud described Birmingham’s city centre layout as “pretty dysfunctional” and that cracking the so-called concrete collar of the ring road was key to its redesign.
“The old library, which is not a loved building, was never given the setting it wanted,” he said.
“There are lots of separate areas and the difficulty is cracking that 1960s road layout, that’s the great challenge. I don’t like the way the road system carves up the city.
“The problems with the great traffic improvements of the 60s is that you end up ripping chapters out of the narrative for a place.
“From the 60s to the 80s, you had the rust belt of Birmingham, the industry closures, and now it is finding a new 21st century identity.”
The designer and author, who lives in the West Country, praised the area around Selfridges and St Martin’s in Birmingham, describing it as “a good piece of public realm”.
He also likes the area around St Philips Cathedral, adding: “I love those streets with really strong red brick office buildings built for merchants. It’s Birmingham from its hey day. The Jewellery Quarter is lovely and the canal area.”
The new Library of Birmingham will be a “marvellous building”, he said.
Commenting on the loss of historic Birmingham buildings like the locally listed Island House, which was demolished earlier this year, he said: “Why should any organisation in the centre of London tell them what is important in Birmingham?
“I think local authorities have the responsibility and the power to establish with residents and neighbours what makes a local structure special, to come up with a local plan.
“Birmingham has got a wealth of historic building and everyone is valuable in a way. What really makes things locally distinct is memory and taste, not what some academic says.”
Mr McCloud returns to Solihull for Grand Designs Live at the NEC for the seventh year from October 12 – 14.
The show for interior design and self-builders, which will have more than 500 exhibitors, will celebrate the 100th Grand Design house building project with a showcase of models of some of the best houses from previous series.
Speakers include Housing Minister Grant Shapps and Climate Change Minister Greg Baker, who will speak on the Green Deal.
Mr McCloud will chair debates in the Grand Theatre and share his Grand Design experiences with visitors.
Some 50,000 people attended the show last year and, despite the recession, around a third of those were interested in self build, according to Mr McCloud.
* For more information and to buy tickets visit www.granddesignslive.com or call the box office on 0844 854 1348.