The motorist is being “airbrushed” out of Birmingham city centre under the new much-heralded transport strategy document, it has been claimed.
While embracing and celebrating the railways, buses, the Metro and pedestrian links through the city centre, the Vision for Birmingham strategy has come under fire for only talking of reducing car use and promoting parking outside the ring road.
Presenting the plans to the council’s transport and regeneration scrutiny committee, officers highlighted an £800 million investment in city centre transport.
This includes the £600 million New Street Station Gateway, a series of new bus interchanges and the £125 million Metro extension, together with future prospects such as High Speed rail and the Sprint rapid bus scheme.
But according to committee member Coun Dennis Birbeck (Cons, Sutton New Hall) they had forgotten a ‘three-letter word’.
“What is happening with the car? It is the most important method of transport in the city. Where is the highway plan for the city centre?
“What about the shops, the businesses, the hotels that need services and deliveries and those who commute by car? In my area, Sutton Coldfield, there is high car ownership and people are going to use their cars to get into the city.
“There’s no mention in this brochure. It is very disappointing.”
A spokesman for the AA Policy Team said that failure to put the car at the heart of planning was ‘short changing’ drivers whose taxes pay for most transport initiatives.
He said: “We come across this all the time. The car is simply airbrushed from transport planning.
“It is a constant complaint from road users, especially when parking fees are raised. They feel they are subsidising public transport and paying an unfair price.”
The document, an offshoot of the Big City Plan, has been drawn up by the council and public transport co-ordinator Centro to guide and shape city centre transport over the next 20 years.
Transport strategy officer Ann Osola insisted: “We haven’t forgotten the car. We have a body of work going forward, talking to businesses about their needs and highways access in the city centre.
"There is a lot of work on freight. Business need goods and services, but we need to look at the environmental impact and the best way of delivering them.”
Assistant director of development strategy David Bull added: “I can assure the committee that the 56,000 car park spaces in the city centre will still be there and still be accessible.”
But Coun Birbeck was far from impressed, not only by the omission of the car, but also the upgrading of a pedestrian subway route between Moor Street and New Street Stations.
He said: “We have just got rid of all the old subways and here we are with another one.”
But he was told it is a ‘covered walkway’ using and improving the existing tunnel under the Bullring.
Coun Kathy Hartley (Lab, Ladywood), pointing at an artist’s impression of the walkway, added: “Just having pictures of women walking through in tight T-shirts and skinny jeans does not make it an attractive place for people to walk. We need some small businesses or activity in there to give people a reason to use it.”
The committee was frustrated at some of the time scales involved, with the Metro extension only now ready for construction after more than 15 years of debate, plans and inquiries before funding was confirmed last week.
New Street will be ready, along with the Metro extension, in 2015, but the HS2 line and station are more than a decade away, with the phase 2 to the north of England even further in the future. “We might as well be planning a helipad,” said a frustrated Coun Birbeck.
The “bus which looks like a tram” Sprint system between Five Ways and Walsall is also only at the business case stage and even with a relatively modest £11 million price tag is still several years away.
On the plus side the new bus interchanges will be ready this summer, as will a new network of interactive pedestrian signposts to guide people around the city.
Labour group regeneration spokesman Tahir Ali (Nechells) said: “A Vision needs to be radical. This is not radical, it brings together several projects which were happening anyway and pretends its part of some great plan. As far as I am concerned it is not a Vision.”