Birmingham was urged yesterday to unleash its potential by delivering the "second act" of city centre renaissance.

The message came from Prof Michael Parkinson, one of the country's leading thinkers on the role of cities who is advising the city council on development. He urged 200 delegates at yesterday's Birmingham Conference at the ICC to focus on redevelopment opportunities.

The construction of Brindleyplace, the ICC, Bullring and Mailbox set the standard, but Birmingham could not afford to rest on its laurels. Rival UK cities were in danger of catching up and overtaking in connectivity and the quality of the urban realm, he said.

"We need to be realistic about our future challenges. The fact is that other UK and European cities have upped their game. My question is, does the second city need a second act?" he said.

Prof Parkinson singled out five key objectives – the redevelopment of New Street Station, expansion of Birmingham International Airport, the transformation of Digbeth into a "gritty" creative quarter and the opportunity to deliver a scheme of national importance on the 21-acre wholesale markets site.

It was necessary to "really commit" to developing Eastside as a learning quarter and to do much more to cash in on the opportunities for business and tourism offered by the Jewellery Quarter.

He called on the city council and business leaders to work more closely with Birmingham's three universities and colleges of further education.

Cautioning against adopting a "willing victim" mentality, Prof Parkinson urged the council to extract the highest possible quality of architecture from prospective developers.

He also urged city leaders to concentrate more on developing the "fine grain" of community life, by concentrating on doing more for younger people, ethnic minorities and the gay community. Big projects were important, but it was equally important to "get the city buzzing" with street festivals, better lighting and community projects.

"Digbeth is a real opportunity. It's got architecture, it is interesting. Don't ignore it.

"The gay quarter in Manchester makes a lot of money. You don't do enough," he added.

Urging the conference to "seize the time", Prof Parkinson said he had been impressed by the wealth of enthusiasm and talent among the business community and at local authority level.

There was a danger of "drowning in strategies", but the real challenge was to select a small number of key deliverable objectives.

"Ready, aim, fire and let's get on. It is very important to find things that can be done and to get on and deliver them," Prof Parkinson said.

A masterplan setting priorities for the next 20 years would give private sector investors the confidence to come to Birmingham, he argued.

"They want to know what kind of place you are going to be and what kind of offer you are making to them.

"Birmingham does punch its weight but it can do more. Birmingham city centre provides one-third of the total jobs in Birmingham, so get the city centre right and you are well on the way.

"Places need to know what they are and where they are going. The masterplan will allow you to think about long term development plans in a strategic way. It will allow you to benchmark progress and see if you are on track."

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>> The Parkinson view 

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