Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Memoranda


Memorandum by Birmingham City Council (WTC 16)

A.  WALKING IN THE CITY CENTRE—THE BIRMINGHAM EXPERIENCE

(i)  Strategic development

  During the 1960's and 70's Birmingham City Centre underwent rapid change on an unprecedented scale in terms of building and highway construction. Although this resulted in considerable commercial activity and a very high level of vehicular access into the heart of the City is also produce a physical environment that fell short of public aspirations.

  Part of the legacy of the 60's and 70's growth was an Inner Ring Road drawn tightly around the City Centre. This "concrete collar" created a pedestrian barrier around the Central Core presenting a depressing and unfriendly environment and a centre through which pedestrian movement was difficult, lacking in cohesion and creating a very poor image. Quite often, the only way around or across the City Centre for pedestrians was through dark, unfriendly and threatening subways.

  In addition, during the latter 70's and in the 80's the traditional economic strength of the city based on the metal working industries ("City of 1,000 Trades"), went into very rapid decline with thousands of job losses.

  However, in the mid-1980's the City Council took a series of key decisions to positively promote city centre change. The construction of an International Convention Centre was conceived as a "business tourism" flagship project to broaden the economic base of the City by stimulating the service sector, providing a combination of business and cultural facilities emphasising quality and confidence in the future.

  The development of the Convention Centre and neighbouring National Indoor Arena gave the City impetus to improve the quality of the environment in the centre, reduce the stranglehold of the Inner Ring Road and create an environment which would be expected of a premier European regional capital.

  In 1987 the Council first published the City Centre Strategy, the aim of which was to welcome and encourage a mixture of new activities including housing, provide good pedestrian access and an attractive, safe environment.

  The Strategy also highlighted seven distinctive areas or "Quarters" each based on past and present economic and physical roles. The Strategy sought to reinforce the individuality of each quarter by encouraging appropriate land use and an enhanced physical environment. As the quarters are inter-related, the Strategy recognised the need for better access between Quarters, particularly for the pedestrian, and especially across the Queensway (former Inner Ring Road).

  The Council tested the principles of the City Centre Strategy in 1987 at the Highbury Initiative. This was one of the first City Centre Symposiums to be held in the UK involving local politicians, officers and business leaders with national and international planners, urban designers and architects to "brainstorm" an action programme. This endorsed the City's Strategy, identifying key action points including the need to improve urban design standards and for better City Centre management and critically to enhance the quality of the pedestrian environment.

  It recommended that the concrete collar of the Inner Ring Road be broken and proposed an east-west pedestrian access from the International Convention Centre across the City Centre into the heart of the shopping streets where a safe, clean and pleasant environment would attract shoppers, workers, visitors and city centre residents. It also recommended a closer dialogue between the various actors who had a role in promoting, developing and maintaining the City Centre.

  As the importance of high quality environment and building design become more apparent the Good Design Initiative was established bringing together public and private sector designers who's aim was to encourage and foster better quality design throughout the city.

  Two key consultant studies followed the Highbury lead concerning streets and squares.

(ii)  Pedestrian Movement and Open Space Framework

  International planning consultants Land Design Research were appointed in 1988 by the City Council and Government sponsored City Action Team to produce an action strategy to strengthen the relationship between economic activity, the pedestrian and the quality of the city environment.

  LDRs study examined the existing pedestrian situation in the central area, assessed the implications of new development projects, analysed the relationship between pedestrians and vehicles and detailed pedestrian movement corridors and open space and their inter-relationships.

  It promoted a flexible approach to physical change in the City Centre with an underlying principle being to create a better physical integration of the various parts of the centre with particular reference to proximity pedestrian movement and ameliorating the effect of the Inner Ring Road on pedestrian movement. Their main recommendations include:

    —  Downgrading of the Inner Ring Road at strategic points and the creation of urban boulevards;

    —  Upgrading the Middle Ring Road (A4540);

    —  Removal of traffic from certain core area streets;

    —  Promotion of a number of individual "Quarters" within the Centre, each with its own unique character and role.

(iii)  City Centre Design Strategy

  The City Council commissioned consultants Tibbalds, Colbourne, Karski, Williams, in 1989 to produce the City Centre Design Strategy. The aims of the strategy are:

    —  Relating buildings to streets;

    —  Creation of a "people friendly" city centre by removal of barriers to pedestrian movement and an emphasis on legibility;

    —  Better use of the city's natural topography;

    —  Support for the development of distinctive quarters;

    —  Encouragement of new landmarks, buildings, features and spaces;

    —  Greening measures to soften the hard physical fabric.

  The City Centre Design Strategy was the first of the "Birmingham Urban Design Studies" (BUDS). Further studies focussed on localities within the city centre have followed including:

    —  Broad Street/Bath Row Development Strategy LDR/Cambridge Economic Consultants 1990;

    —  Sandpits Regeneration study—Birmingham City Council 1992;

    —  Urban Design Framework—St Paul's and Environs Tibbalds et al- 1993;

    —  Convention Centre Quarter Plan—Birmingham City Council 1993;

    —  Gun Quarter Planning and Urban Design Framework—Llewelyn Davies 1993;

    —  Digbeth Millennium Quarter—Birmingham City Council 1996;

    —  Bull Ring and Markets Quarter—Birmingham City Council 1996;

    —  Jewellery Quarter Urban Village Framework Plan—EDAW 1998;

    —  Eastside Development Framework—Birmingham City Council 2000;

    —  Draft City Centre Canal Corridor Framework—Birmingham City Council 2000.

(iv)  The Implementation Programme

  Since the adoption of the City Centre Strategy, a "streets and squares" approach to urban design and physical enhancement has been pursued. This has improved the quality of the pedestrian environment and thereby helped to stimulate new activities and promoted the renaissance of the City Centre. An east-west pedestrian spine link has been achieved from New Street Station to the International Convention Centre with complementary improvements to north—south routes as well as significant new urban spaces and redefinition of the role of the city streets including part of the Queensway (former Inner Ring Road).

(v)  Key Projects implemented to date include:

(a)  The Broad Street Redevelopment Area

  A City Council initiative whereby a 40 acre site was assembled to create a new pedestrian friendly quarter outside of the traditional City Centre core. This was to house the International Convention Centre (open 1991), National Indoor Arena (open 1994), Hyatt International Hotel, mixed use activities in Gas Street Basin and subsequently Brindleyplace. The latter is a 17 acre mixed use development by way of a response by the private sector to a brief prepared by the City Council. Brindleyplace has been created within a series of new public squares linked to the key pedestrian routes to the surrounding residential area and City Centre Core and extensive canal network.

(b)  Inner Ring Road remodelling

  The breaking of the concrete collar previously exerted by the Queensway began at Centenary way where the road was lowered and a new pedestrian street introduced to link a new public square adjacent to the ICC/Brindleyplace through the City Centre Core.

  The remodelling of the Ring Road has extended beyond the Broad Street Corridor and has taken different forms in different locations. In each case the reversal of priority from cars to pedestrians and the elimination of subways by surface pedestrian crossings has clearly improved pedestrian access and hence the economic vitality and attraction for investment of the new "quarters" beyond the Ring Road. Effectively the City Centre has grown over the past 15 years from 80 ha to 800 ha.

  Specific projects have included the lowering of Smallbrook Queensway at Hill Street/Hurst Street to provide a new surface pedestrian link from the City Centre Core to the developing Chinese and entertainment area adjacent to the Hippodrome Theatre. At Paradise Circus and Newhall Street a much cheaper and simpler solution was adopted by merely infilling the subways and "punching" through the central reserve with the introduction of a pelican crossing, whilst at Suffolk Street the developer of the Mailbox created a new public square which extended beneath the elevated Ring Road. New parking materials, public art and elevated lighting scheme has also helped to ameliorate the dividing impact of the Ring Road at this location.

  The importance of pedestrian access to the Mailbox has been taken a stage further by the developer actually creating a new public street, through the existing building linking through to the canal network to the rear. A new canal bridge also provided by the developer has completed a new circular leisure route which extends to Gas Street Basin, Brindleyplace and beyond.

  At Old Square (part of the Queensway) a jointly funded English Partnerships/European Union scheme has replaced an unpleasant roundabout, and subterranean shopping area accessed by subways by a new public square and surface level pedestrian crossing.

(c)  Pedestrianisation

  As part of the creation of an east-west pedestrian spine from the new quarter in Broad Street to the Central Shopping and business areas a series of attractive nodes and spaces has been created to provide a seamless pedestrian link across the City. This has also taken different forms from the spectacular transformation of Victoria Square from roundabout to extensive public square and fountain to the remodelling of Paradise Circus beneath the Central Library by "grafting" a glass atrium and retail units into a concrete eyesore.

  Elsewhere the full pedestrianisation of New Street has taken place, eliminating vehicles and increasing footfall by over 50 per cent thereby stimulating interest in retail and increasing residential activities. Corporation Street has similarly benefited from increased pedestrian priority in terms of wider pavements, landscaping and more limited vehicular access. Most recently the High Street was comprehensively remodelled following the removal of buses providing a more attractive shopping environment as the front door into the new Bull Ring Shopping Centre.

  Enhanced public squares at Holliday Circus and St. Phillips Churchyard have also taken place recognising the value and importance of pedestrian squares for the attraction of the City Centre as a whole.

(d)  Other

  Broad Street itself although remaining open for vehicular use has been downgraded to reduce through traffic. As a principle leisure and commercial destination a decision was taken to widen the footways, introduce enhanced landscaping and an innovative central median strip that visually narrows the highway to create a more pedestrian friendly road within a major area of change.

  Other improvements to the extensive canal network have sought to enhance the opportunities for pedestrian movement along the towpath (linking the new quarters outside the traditional central area) and stimulating new and activities—particularly housing fronting a waterside environment.

  In the future we are to see further remodelling of the 1960's infrastructure and the creation of a more pedestrian friendly environment. However this approach is now being pursued by the private sector rather than the lead being taken by the City Council. To the east of the City Centre at Masshouse Circus and the new Bull Ring Shopping Centre private developers in association with the Regional Development Agency and City Council as part landowner is engaged in a massive dismantling project to "knit" part of the traditional City Centre back with the core area. This will create a new and exciting mixed use development opportunity based upon the three themes of learning, heritage and technology and improve pedestrian access to the Millennium Point Development due to open later this year.

(vi)  Public Transport

  The promotion of the pedestrian environment as part of the revitalisation of the City Centre has been accompanied by a concerted effort to improve access to and within the City Centre by all modes of transport.

  In terms of heavy "rail services" this has taken the form of the electrification of the principle north-south commuter services, the creation of a new suburban cross city line, and by re-opening Moor Street and Snow Hill Stations. The first light rail service for Birmingham to Wolverhampton was also opened in 1999 and proposals are well advanced for various surface level extensions.

  Numerous bus priority measures including Bus Show case routes have also been introduced in recent years.

  In recognition of the poor state of repair of our existing coach station the City Council has taken a bold decision to release a key site alongside Snow Hill heavy rail station for a new coach station to be provided by AMEC in 2001-02 in association with a mixed residential and commercial private development.

(vii)  Policy

  Although a strong implementation programme to enhance the pedestrian environment has been progressed by Birmingham in recent years it's success has only been achieved by other complementary policies and projects.

  These include the creation of a more functional City—our promotion, both direct and indirect of mix use activities, particularly incorporating housing has resulted in a 24 hour, seven day a week City Centre which is both lively but also commercially sound. We have also sought to increase the density of development but not where this diminishes the quality of the environment which would be counter productive. An approach which values urban design qualities as much as the quality of the architecture has been vital. The early adoption of the "Places Street and Movement" principles in our planning has helped to create attractive new developments which have transformed the City Centre over the past decade. The leadership provided initially by the City Council was essential to demonstrate confidence but now the role has evolved to one of partner and facilitator.

  This is best exemplified as part of the Eastside Initiative described earlier but also by the City Watch Initiative. The provision of a CCTV system within the new pedestrian space has been by means of a partnership been the public and private sectors such that the level of street crime is now extremely low.

B.  SPECIFIC RESPONSES TO ISSUES RAISED

(i)  Reasons for decline in Walking

  There are clearly many reasons for the decline in walking—particularly since the War. In Birmingham there has been a combination of factors including the high incidence of car ownership which has become part of the car culture of the City. This ownership was reflected in the provision of infrastructure and indeed policy which encouraged car usage—this was reflected in terms of large scale highways, vehicular rather than pedestrian priority (the "Concrete Collar" of the Inner Ring Road) and the large extensive provision of workspace (free) car parking. In addition as car ownership increased there was a resultant decline in the quality and provision of public transport and total lack of an integrated transportation provision. Concerns regarding the fear of crime and personal security associated with a city dominated by subways and large scale roads also acted as a deterrent to walking.

  Mainstream policy particularly concerning the growth of out of town retailing and introduction of parental choice for schools both also contributed to the decline in walking to more neighbourhood based community facilities.

(ii)  How to promote walking

  The example of how Birmingham has attempted to revitalise it's City Centre provides lessons as to how to promote walking. This emphasises:

    —  the improvement in the pedestrian environment;

    —  the improvement in public transport;

    —  the promotion of mixed use development particularly residential;

    —  the provision of town and city centres as the focal point for community development (and the resultant opposition to out of centre development);

    —  the provision of a more secure and safe environment.

(iii)  Skills base

  It is certainly the Birmingham experience that the skills do exist in the local authority to promote walking. However what has been necessary was the establishment of multi-disciplinary teams—including links to health professions in order to implement successful projects on the ground.

(iv)  Funding

  Funding has been sought from a wide variety of sources in Birmingham ranging from ERDF, EP and the Regional Development Agency as well as from the City Councils own resources. There is however never sufficient and we have constantly sought to expand our resource base by harnessing the resources of the private sector. Thus we regularly utilise planning obligations (including commuted car parking sums) to improve the pedestrian environment and encourage walking.

  Where new large developments are planned we now ensure that the Transport Impact Assessment properly assess the need for pedestrian movement and ensure the development provides what is needed.

  Whilst it is straightforward to promote and seek funds for major pedestrianisation schemes in the City Centre it is less easy to fund the incremental improvements that are needed particularly in suburban areas where a package of relatively minor measures could significantly improve conditions for walking. It is here that multi-disciplinary working and budgeting could prove invaluable.

(v)  Targets

  Before targets can be set accurate information on walking is needed. The lack of this information from national travel surveys etc prompted the City Council to commence the Birmingham Travel Survey. This is a household interview travel survey that specifically seeks to establish the importance of walking and cycling in the trips made. Eight wards a year are surveyed and the ongoing work will establish bench marks and a means of monitoring changes.

  Appropriate targets can have a role in focussing thoughts, but the evidence so far from the travel survey is that levels of walking vary considerably across the city, and hence "blanket" targets may not be an appropriate way forward.

Mike Taylor

Group Leader—Local Planning

Birmingham City Council,

Planning Department

Trevor Errington

Policy Team Leader

Birmingham City Council

Transportation Department

January 2001


 
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Prepared 2 February 2001