Birmingham city centre is on course to change as never before. Public Affairs Editor Paul Dale reports on the largest redevelopment plan in the country.
The Big City Plan began life as an attempt to transform central Birmingham in the same way that development of the ICC and Brindleyplace proved a turning point for the city's fortunes in the 1990s.
By the time city council leader Mike Whitby had finished enthusing about his vision for the future, the "once in a generation" opportunity to regenerate 2,000 acres of prime real estate had been likened to Birmingham's civic dominance at the end of the 19th century.
"This is my Chamberlain moment. People will talk about this tomorrow in the same way that we enthuse about Joseph Chamberlain's achievements today," Whitby told an audience of business representatives, council officials and other stakeholders at Baskerville House.
The scope of the plan, taking in an area the size of some smaller cities, was unprecedented in the UK, he said.
The 44-page document owes much to the free thinking of Professor Michael Parkinson, the cities expert from Liverpool John Moores University, who was invited by the council to give a warts-and-all analysis of Birmingham city centre and its prospects for future growth.
Professor Parkinson concluded that regeneration had stalled after the "great first act" of the ICC, Brindleyplace, the pedestrianisation of New Street and High Street and construction of the Bullring.
He urged Birmingham to think big, be bold, show a bit of swagger and to come up with something that would persuade investors, employers and the Government this was a city that was really going places.
In short, Parkinson advised us to stop being self-deprecating and afraid of failure, and to take some risks.
The main elements of the Big City Plan reflect much of Parkinson's thinking. In particular, extension of the city centre core, smashing through the "concrete collar" of the inner ring road to take in northern Digbeth, the Wholesale Markets and Attwood Green, and the development of new urban neighbourhoods with a range of affordable accommodation for families and single people.
The development of Digbeth as a cultural quarter, bringing to life Birmingham's industrial past, and forming pedestrian links through Eastside and into the main shopping area is a key part of the plan.
The challenge for Birmingham to become the main focus for creative industries in the UK, making Eastside the equivalent of Manchester's knowledge quarter is also picked up.
There are classic Parkinsonian phrases about not being too prescriptive, while recognising that "cities flourish in mess".
The document adds: "We will keep Birmingham rough at the edges. If we lose our quirkiness, we create 'Anywheresville'. We do however need to find a new expression of the future that reflects the past.
"There will be new uses and building types that will work against the grain of the past. We need to find the Birmingham Way of achieving excellent design quality and not rely on the iconic, single-minded solutions that are making all of our cities the same.
"The Jewellery Quarter World Heritage Site bid is a superb start but the rest of the city centre needs to be equally distinctive."
The plan envisages growing the population and the development of a "smart urban neighbourhood" within the city centre. Although it does not say where this might be, Kevin Campbell, managing director of Urban Initiatives, the consultants charged with compiling the plan, said Highgate would be an ideal area for a new urban village which he said could be the equivalent of Brooklyn Heights in New York.
Mr Campbell said: "Highgate is very close to the city centre, there's a beautiful Victorian park sitting down there. How do we create the focus for it to become a great urban neighbourhood?"
There is a warning in the document that housing alone does not make a neighbourhood, underlining the need for schools, parks, shops, health centres, small businesses and pubs to be factored in to future development.
If this plan succeeds, the Birmingham of 2028 will be a very different place.
Buses will long have been banished from the city centre to be replaced, perhaps, by ecofriendly electric "road trains" of the type used on the continent to move shoppers around.
The Metro will have reached New Street and, perhaps, be making its way out to the airport via Digbeth. Birmingham International Station will be served by Eurostar services, linking Birmingham and the West Midlands with the great European cities.
The new pedestrian-friendly city core will be buzzing with busy public squares, lively streets, markets, parks and pavement cafes. There will be a food quarter with the focus on independent restaurants, retailers and street markets.
Highgate will be transformed from a slightly down-at-heel inner city community to a gritty New York-style urban neighbourhood.
But the council was keen to stress last night that initial ideas in the document are simply proposals at this stage. Extensive consultation will take place over the next few weeks in an attempt to make sure the plan as it finally emerges has solid public support.
Clive Dutton, council director of regeneration, said the document was intended to stimulate discussion, not close down fresh thinking.
Main proposals in the Big City Plan:
* Birmingham should strive to host a number of major international events, to include world sporting championships, throughout the 20-year planning period;
* Extension of the city centre core to take in northern Digbeth, the Wholesale Markets and Attwood Green;
* Develop busy public squares, lively streets, markets, parks and pavement cafes. Create a food quarter with the focus on independent restaurants, retailers and street markets;
* Radically increase the number of families living in the city centre over the planning period;
* Maximise the potential of Birmingham as a Science City by "fully exploiting our melting pot of learning and business";
* Campaign for Eurostar rail services to Birmingham International Station, with a dedicated link to New Street;
* Develop a new urban neighbourhood within the city centre, with a range of accommodation to include larger town houses for bigger families, mews houses and duplex homes, affordable homes for young and old;
* Reconsider street running options for the Metro extension, consider removing buses from the city centre;
* Make Birmingham the focus for creative industries in the UK. Make the Eastside media quarter the equivalent of Dublin's digital hub and Manchester's knowledge quarter.