Digbeth could become another Covent Garden as part of a concerted city council attempt to rediscover Birmingham's "heart and soul".

Council leader Mike Whitby spoke of a golden opportunity to capitalise on the growth of the arts and new media sectors by transforming the birthplace of Birmingham into a vibrant creative quarter.

Coun Whitby (Con Harborne) added: "We are looking at where the soul comes from. Digbeth is an opportunity for folk and jazz clubs and coffee bars.

"People who just want to enjoy life would go there."

The 20-year city centre masterplan will emphasise Birmingham's reputation for "genuine friendliness and warmth", Coun Whitby added.

In a passionate closing speech to the Birmingham Conference, he addressed directly critics who claim that the council's Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has lost its way.

Coun Whitby insisted that independent arbitrators "with no axe to grind" continued to rate Birmingham's achievements and growing prosperity.

Warning the "whingers" to stay away, Coun Whitby said he welcomed constructive criticism and was determined to work closely with the business and voluntary sectors. The real strength of partnership is disagreeing in a mature and sophisticated manner. If we shoot ourselves in the foot constantly, all we do is hurt the Birmingham brand.

"This is about true partnership. It doesn't matter what your title is. It doesn't matter what your organisation is.

"A comprehensive vision can only be found by working together."

Warning against complacency, Coun Whitby said Birmingham had no divine right to succeed and the city had to be relevant to modern global requirements.

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