A revival in city centre living is at the heart of Birmingham’s 20-year development strategy. Public Affairs Correspondent Paul Dale reports.

Planners are putting their faith in rapid recovery of the city-living apartments market as Birmingham embarks on an unprecedented dash for growth.

Up to 51,000 new homes could be built across the city by 2026 but almost half – 20,000 – will be located in the central core area.

The target is to double the construction rate of flats and houses seen in city centre between 1995 and 2010, which in itself ran at a record pace.

By doing so, the city council hopes it can grow Birmingham’s population to about 1.1 million without taking green belt land for new housing.

By excluding green belt from development, the council is effectively ruling out building on 16 per cent of the city’s total land mass.

The proposal is floated in the draft version of the Birmingham Core Strategy 2006-2026 – a statutory document laying down development guidelines.

The strategy calls for action to halt social polarisation – the tendency for professional and managerial groups to move out of the city to live in neighbouring shire counties – and says the answer is to create high-quality residential settlements in Birmingham attractive to all.

The document accepts there are environmental concerns about the impact of large-scale growth.

Response to a consultation exercise questioned the wisdom of expanding even further the size of the largest city outside of London.

But the document states that it is important Birmingham continues to “strengthen its role on the world stage”.

It goes on: “The emerging strategy is therefore committed to growth but aims to ensure that this takes place in a way which helps to make Birmingham a better place for everyone who lives, works or visits the city.”

The authors admit they may be taking a gamble over the speed at which the housing market emerges from the doldrums.

Several high-profile city centre regeneration schemes reliant on selling apartments are currently mothballed, victims of the credit crunch.

These include the third phase of Snow Hill and the £500 million Arena Central scheme.

The Core Strategy draft suggests that between 20 and 35 per cent of new-build in the city centre should be affordable housing.

The document warns: “Recently, the market for apartments in the city centre has been badly hit by the credit crunch and development has slowed considerably.

“However, it is the city council’s belief that this market will return in due course.”

Population projections suggest an above-average increase in the number of young people living in Birmingham over the next 20 years as well as an increase in the number of foreign students attending colleges and universities. This, it is claimed, will lead to record demand for small flats.

The document adds: “It is a fundamental assumption of the strategy that the city living apartment market will return and make a significant contribution to meeting the city’s housing target.

“Should this target not be achieved the city’s overall housing target will need to be revisited and adjusted accordingly.

“Improving the quality of the environment in the city centre will continue to be a high priority, as will improving pedestrian links between the city centre quarters and with the adjacent neighbourhoods.”

Proposed targets envisage 2,250 homes a year being built in Birmingham between 2011 and 2016, 2,870-a-year between 2017 and 2021 and 3,200-a-year between 2022 and 2026. Housing development in the city centre will be based on a density of at least 100 dwellings to the hectare.

The core strategy states: “The city council’s aim is to increase the level of housing provision as quickly as possible as the country emerges from the recession which commenced during the early years of this plan period.

“The recession has had a major impact on the house building industry with significant reductions in both starts and completions from pre-recession levels

“The actual rate of delivery will depend on the speed with which the housing market recovers from the recession as well as on land supply factors.”

Outside of the city centre, significant housing and retail growth will be concentrated in Sutton Coldfield, Perry Barr, Selly Oak and east Birmingham.

The council is proposing to build nine eco-villages. Sustainable Urban Neighbourhoods, described as “exemplary high quality housing settlements that utilise low carbon forms of energy production and promote the best sustainable practices”, are proposed at Longbridge, Bordesley Park, Stechford, Shard End, Meadway, Greater Icknield, Druids Heath, Kings Norton and Highgate.

They will be developed on brownfield sites with the intention of helping Birmingham meet a target to cut carbon emissions by 60 per cent.

The document adds: “Pleasant and safe family neighbourhoods will be created, with a range of green and open space, providing a high quality of life for residents.

“Sustainable waste management will be encouraged from the beginning of development. Residences will benefit from recycling provision and the potential to utilise waste as a resource for energy recovery will be explored.”

The council is also promising to cut energy consumption in the buildings it owns by 25 per cent.

Cabinet member for regeneration, Tim Huxtable, is keen to gauge public reaction to the strategy document.

Coun Huxtable (Con Bournville) said: “The draft policies have been produced after extensive consultation and reflect the city’s aspirations for its growth, economic development and approach for tackling the key issues for the next 20 years.

“Many of these issues, such as the need to create more affordable housing and sustainable employment and continue tackling climate change, will be challenging and require innovative solutions within increasingly limited resources.”