Four men leading the £600 million transformation of Birmingham’s New Street station and the Pallasades shopping centre gathered together for the first time to see how work is progressing.
Construction started on the New Street Gateway project two years ago, but this week was the first opportunity for the four partners involved to go onto the building site and see for themselves how it is going.
Whilst there, they also turned the first sod to mark the start of construction work on the new John Lewis store which will anchor the revamped Pallasades and bring 650 jobs to the city.
City council leader Sir Albert Bore; John Lewis managing director Andy Street; chief executive of Network Rail David Higgins, and Mark Reynolds, deputy chief executive of construction company Mace, all said they were delighted with how the scheme was progressing.
The massive project is on schedule and passengers will be the first to get a look at the new station when the first section of the revamped concourse opens next spring.
John Lewis is due to open in autumn 2014 and the entire station is due to be completed by 2015.
Throughout the work, New Street station is remaining open with trains running as normal.
Mace boss, Mr Reynolds, said this meant the project was one of their most complex to date.
“Because 90 per cent of the UK trains are affected by any disruption at New Street, we obviously have to keep disruption to a minimum,” he said.
“This is one of our most challenging transport projects and at its height we had 90 managers and over 300 members of staff working here.”
City council leader Sir Albert Bore, who was in opposition when the work began, had his first chance to tour the site. He admitted to being blown away by the sheer scale of the engineering challenges facing the team.
“A true feat of engineering is taking place on the New Street site to transform the station – while tens of thousands of people continue to travel in and out of our city uninterrupted every day,” he said.
He was particularly pleased Birmingham had finally managed to lure John Lewis to the site.
“We tried to get them here ten years ago when the Bullring opened but they decided not to come,” he said. “It’s a testament to the retail strength of the city centre that John Lewis has changed its mind and decided to come now.”
The managing director of John Lewis, Andy Street, said the time was right to set up shop in Birmingham because the city had established itself as the retail capital of the Midlands.
The New Street store will be its biggest outside London and will build on the company’s success which has bucked the retail trend and seen sales increase steadily during the recession.
“You look at the number of people coming off the trains to go shopping in Birmingham and you think, I want to be part of that,” he said.
“This site is at the heart of the city centre, nestled between the Bullring and the Mailbox, a perfect location.”
Mr Street said another factor was the huge success of the John Lewis store in Solihull.
“Although they are close geographically, the customer base and market for the new Birmingham store and the existing one at Touchwood are different and will complement each other,” he said.
Network Rail’s chief executive David Higgins said the revamped New Street would have 30 new escalators, 15 new lifts and a concourse which will be three and a half times bigger than the current one.
“The exciting changes we are delivering at New Street vividly show how investment in transport infrastructure can benefit cities and communities by triggering regeneration, new jobs and economic growth,” he said.