Moves to boost Birmingham as a shopping destination are outlined in the Big City Plan. Paul Dale looks at the proposals
The popularity of city living has boosted the population of central Birmingham by almost a third since 2001.
But despite widespread development of popular loft-style apartments in former Jewellery Quarter factories and the rapid growth of blocks of modern flats in Eastside, the city centre remains under-populated and unattractive at night according to council planners.
Some 30,000 people are estimated to live in an area covered by 800 hectares – making the central core the size of a small town.
With Birmingham likely to have to meet a government target to build 60,000 homes by 2026, the city centre takes on a new importance.
The Big City Plan suggests there is still great potential for residential growth, and asks where houses and flats should be built. It makes the point that, outside of the core shopping and office areas, much of the city centre lacks vibrancy because it does not have sufficient population to support bars, restaurants and other social activities. However, it is not just the periphery of the city centre that lacks a buzzing night-time economy. The document adds: “In the evenings, much of the centre, including most of the main shopping areas, is all but deserted. If the Big City Plan is to improve the interest and vibrancy of the wider centre it must bring about an increase in the population and a more diverse pattern of land use.”
Former industrial areas – the Gun Quarter, the Jewellery Quarter and Digbeth – are said to be ripe for development but questions remain over the extent to which new housing should take precedence over the growth of businesses...“One of the clear trends from economic analysis is the reducing level of manufacturing and the resultant stock of vacant and under-used floorspace.
“The residential areas of Ladywood, Highgate and part of the Gun Quarter are dominated by 20th Century social housing at relatively low densities and have an inward-looking, self-contained feel that does not relate to the city’s core. As a general rule their public realm and public spaces are not attractive, their layouts do not follow good urban design principles and they do not house a broad social mix.”
The document describes Birmingham’s diverse population as a defining characteristic, adding: “A city centre for young people should be safe during the day and into the evening; its cultural offering should include activities for children from toddlers to teenagers.”
The plan demands action to make the city centre more attractive for older people and children.