A lasting tribute to Birmingham’s long-held status as the capital of the car manufacturing world will form the centrepiece of a new town set to rise from the ruins of the MG Rover plant at Longbridge.
Developer St Modwen revealed plans to celebrate the city’s heritage at a centre which will be built on the new 2,000-home estate at a public inquiry in to the plans.
The Austin Centre – named after the first famous brand to be built at the site – could double as a health centre and an “incubator” unit for start-up businesses which will be given an opportunity to flourish in the £750 million development.
Mike Murray from St Modwen said that The Austin Centre would not be a copy of the British Motor Heritage Trust’s museum at Gaydon in Warwickshire but would instead seek to chart the social impact of the factory which employed tens of thousands of people and turned out the country’s most famous automotive marques.
The facility is also likely to host exhibitions of engineering projects to capture the essence of the pioneering spirit of Herbert Austin who moved on to the site with a staff of just three people in 1905.
“It will give people a touchstone to what went on in the past,” said Mr Murray. “The people who will be living on this estate aren’t in this room; they are nine and 10 years old and in school and it’s very likely that they don’t know the history of Longbridge.
“We’ve had various discussions about what to do regarding the history of the site and while we don’t want to repeat what has been done at Gaydon to remember the history of the Longbridge brands as well as Aston Martin and Jaguar it is important that a link to the past remains.
“At the same time we recognise that, to make The Austin Centre viable, we need to support the facilities and create a multi-user building which people will visit daily.”
Liz Jesper from Birmingham City Council said the local authority supported the building of the centre and talks were underway which could pave the way for it to double as a health facility.
“Space for others who can generate income to make sure the building is sustainable will be found,” she said.
“We will try and support social enterprise and want this to be something which is used by the community every day.”
The Austin Centre will form part of a “local centre” with shops and the site for the £84 million new home of Bournville College.
Fears have been raised that a shopping precinct and superstore could throw the future of smaller retailers in places like Frankley and Rednal in to doubt, although St Modwen said it was vital for the project to include retail and job opportunities if it was to prove attractive.
Sid Grey, chairman of New Frankley Parish Council, said: “A lot of these surrounding local centres are the heart of their community and if they were to be lost a lot of people would become isolated.”