Memorandum by Birmingham City Council
THE VALUE OF INLAND WATERWAYS IN URBAN REGENERATION
THE BIRMINGHAM EXPERIENCE
1.1 Birmingham has been at the forefront
of canal-based renewal and regeneration for many years now. This
short paper, without going into detail, attempts to draw out the
lessons of that experience that may be helpful to the Committee.
1.2 Birmingham has 32 miles of canals. It
has no major rivers. The three rivers within the city are all
minor and none are navigable. The canal network is extensive.
It covers most of the City, 33 per cent of the city's population
lives within 1km of a canal, and links with inland waterways throughout
the rest of the country. It is of strategic importance locally,
regionally and nationally. A number of key themes of the Inquiry
are now addressed as follows.
2. ROLE OF
2.1 Historically the canal network has had
a significant impact on the physical and economic development
of the City but by the late 1970s Birmingham's canals were in
a derelict state. Birmingham City Council (BCC) however took the
view that they were liabilities waiting to be turned into assets.
In 1983, with funding from the former Urban Programme (Birmingham
Inner City Partnerships), BCC together with British Waterways
(BW) embarked on a comprehensive programme of canal improvements.
This concentrated on improving the towpath network and access
to it. There were also other associated improvements such as boundary
works, signage and landscaping. These "surface level"
improvements were always preceded by structural works to the canal
walls were necessary.
2.2 The success of this approach led to
renewed interest in canals as an element in urban regeneration
and the Partnership, in the mid 80s, developed a corridor approach
to Birmingham's inner city canals. This involved taking a more
holistic approach to physical improvements but also integrated
canal works into other, area based, initiatives. There was in
effect recognition that canals had a role to play in the economic,
social and physical renewal of areas suffering multiple deprivation.
2.3 The physical improvements works carried
on, and are still continuing today, but from the mid 80's this
area based approach became an increasingly important element in
Birmingham's regeneration activity. This area based approach is
being guided by the City's Unitary Development Plan, Local Planning
Frameworks, and other Guidance including design guidelines for
canalside developmentexamples attached. The use of a Masterplan
approach, for example at Brindleyplace, has been found of particular
value in helping to guide the initial vision into reality. The
Council welcomes the Government's intention, expressed in Waterways
for Tomorrow, to continue to support the development of inland
waterways through the planning process.
2.4 Such Frameworks have been successful
in providing robust guidance to ensure progress. However the revival
of the canals cannot be achieved without a commitment to quality
of design, appropriate resources being available and positive
management of both canals and canalside property.
2.5 The development industry is now better
disposed towards the positive use of canal frontages and it is
becoming less difficult to achieve integration of the canals into
2.6 The City Council is keen to play a positive
role in helping advocate best practice and has offered to contribute
to the good practice guide which IWAAC are to prepare.
3.1 Over and above the physical improvements
to the fabric of the canals themselves much has been achieved
in the way of canal-side regeneration projects; including:
International Convention Centre Quarter: Planning
policy for this area on the western side of the City Centre successfully
integrates the canals with major regeneration initiates which
The International Convention Centre.
Brindleyplacea 17ha, £250
million private mixed use development.
The Mailboxone of the largest
mixed use developments in Europe.
Birmingham Heartlands: This large area of East
Birmingham was the subject of concerted regeneration activity
between 1988 and 1998, firstly through Birmingham Heartlands Ltd
and subsequently as an UDC. The canals through the area formed
an important part of the regeneration strategy and formed a focus
for both commercial and residential priority development areas.
Aston Science Park: The Digbeth Branch Canal
forms an important spine in the design of this prestigious campus
style development. This has resulted in successfully integrating
the renewal of an eighteenth Century canal with a modern late
20th century development.
Project Aquarius: As has been indicated during
the 1980's considerable progress was achieved regarding improvements
around the canals however little had been done to tackle poor
water quality and the legacy of industrial activity in the canals.
In 1992 an opportunity arose to secure Urban Programme funding.
This funding, matched by BW, enabled the start of a phased programmetotal
value £2 million approxto remove and treat silt extensively
contaminated with heavy metals eg cadmium, chromium, copper, nickel,
lead and arsenic, along with hydrocarbons. Canals successfully
treated included those within and to the east of the City Centre.
This approach could be extended, if funding was secured, both
within the City and elsewhere in the West Midlands.
Eastside: This major regeneration initiative
encompasses a large part of the East Side of the City Centre and
environs, including the canal-based Warwick Bar Conservation Area.
The eastside initiative is still at the early stages of development
but the Planning Framework for the area sees the canal playing
an important role especially in integrating heritage issues within
radical regeneration proposals. BW and BCC expect in the near
future to receive a Townscape Heritage Grant from the HLF for
4. A PARTNERSHIP
4.1 Establishing and maintaining partnerships
is of particular importance. All that has been achieved has been
done in partnership with others, primarily BW, but also a wide
range of other parties. In 1997 The Birmingham Canals Partnership
was formed between BCC, BW (Midlands and South West Region) and
4.2 The award winning partnership with BW
has achieved many successes and has been a major contribution
to regeneration of the City. However, BW's dependence on funding
from income and property developments has led on occasion to priority
being given to commercial considerationsas required by
the financial guidelines BW operate underrather than wider
social and economic benefit. The City Council and BW is currently
finalising a Collaboration Agreement. This represents a logical
and innovative next step which can potentially be replicated elsewhere
helping to ensure that social, environmental as well as economic
objectives can be achieved and managed in a comprehensive and
sustainable way. It is intended that this Agreement will be supported
by a Canals Action Plan with The Birmingham Canals Partnership
continuing to be the forum for the development and application
of policy regarding joint action.
5. LEISURE, RECREATION,
5.1 Pedestrian Access and Cycling: The Canal
network is seen as integral to the linear open space network of
the City. As part of the renaissance of canals, towing paths are
becoming increasingly important for a range of uses including
leisure, sport and cycling. The provision of improved pedestrian,
and where practical disabled, access has been a key priority within
the canal improvement programme. Not only does this improve permeability
in new developments but often, for the first time enables, access
from communities through which the canals pass. The City council
is keen, where appropriate, to see the canal network becoming
an integral part of the City's cycle networkalready part
of the network forms part of the National Cycle Network. Such
use will lead to greater maintenance being required for towing
paths as well as potential conflict with other users which must
be suitably managed.
5.2 Tourism: The importance of canals is
recognised in the City's Tourism Strategy and Action Plan and
is a significant contribution to regeneration. The renaissance
of Birmingham's waterways and their use as part of tourist development
and marketing have contributed to a greatly improved image of
both the City and the canals themselves. This has resulted in
an inflow of visitors and a greatly improved "pride of place"
amongst the local community.
5.3 A visitor survey carried out in 1997
showed that 69 per cent of all visitors were aware of the canals
in Birmingham (second only to the International Convention Centre)
and were given an assessment of 8.2 (out of 10). 22 per cent of
all visitors had or intended to visit the canals during their
visit (which was the highest score for all attractions). A subsequent
survey confirms that canals are helping to create a positive image
5.4 Wildlife: The canal network has intrinsic
value for wildlife and its conservation and enhancement is reflected
in policy and for example the recently published Biodiversity
Action Plan for Birmingham and The Black Country. Canals form
an integral part of the City's linked network of open spaces making
connections between other sites which otherwise would be isolated.
In addition, and importantly, it provides the opportunity for
people to come into contact and enjoy urban wildlife close to
where they live. Proposals are not expected to detract from this
value. Securing adequate resources for monitoring, enhancement
and management is a concern.
5.5 Heritage: The canal network in Birmingham
has, as previously stated, intrinsic value, and includes one canal
based Conservation Area. Ensuring appropriate management and enhancement
of these areas depends on adequate recording of the historical
assetboth canal and canal relatedand securing funding.
There has been progress however more is required. For example
experience has shown some difficulty in encouraging land owners
and occupiers to enhance their property without being able to
offer 100 per cent grant aid which leads to unimproved property
detracting from nearby improvement schemes. In addition the long
lead in time to secure funding eg via HLF has frustrated greater
6. FREIGHT, TELECOMMUNICATIONS,
6.1 Freight: The desire to see a significant
increase in the use of canals for freight is strongly supported.
However, the scope within the City for this to happen is constrained
due to its physical nature, the need to preserve the intrinsic
character of the canal network, its wildlife value, and the desire
to avoid conflict with other users. In addition the "just
in time" nature of commerce also limits options particularly
when topography and number of locks within the City are taken
into account. A number of municipal refuse sites are located adjacent
to canals reflecting one past use of the canals in the City. There
is now an acknowledged potential for the use of the network to
both transfer waste and potentially the output of material from
recycling facilities. One welcome consequence would be the increased
number of boat movements, and therefore interest and activity,
throughout the year particularly outside the holiday season.
6.2 Telecommunications: There is scope for
further trunking of infrastructure under towing paths eg Fibreway.
However, again based on our experience, there is a need both to
ensure that its installation and maintenance is adequately regulated
with income being recycled to address deficiencies in the network.
It is of paramount importance that the canals' intrinsic value
and existing investment in high quality improvements are not compromised.
6.3 Water Transfer: The potential of canals
for water transfer is also acknowledged. Proposals would be considered
on their merits based on similar criteria for freight and telecommunications.
7. ROLE AND
7.1 No proposals are contained within Waterways
For Tomorrow regarding the classification of canals or the
responsibilities of BW regarding towing paths. Within Birmingham
classification of canals as cruiseways and remainder waterways
has little apparent impact. There is a need to ensure that resources
are available to enable adequate maintenance of remainder waterways
and more widely the maintenance of towing paths to their improved
standard; the key issue is how enhanced maintenance of towing
paths can be secured. Local Transport Plans provide one route.
However there appears the opportunity to secure a more comprehensive
and long lasting solution by for example recycling resources,
particularly gained from investment in and adjacent to the canal
networkwhether received as receipts to BW or for example
through S106 Agreementsand extending BW's remit regarding
7.2 Opportunities for canal restoration
projects within the City is limited to one potential restoration
scheme, others exist regionally. IWAAC's recommendations regarding
restoration priorities as well as the role of the newly established
Waterways Trust is welcomed. However, the ability of BW to support
restoration projects continues often to be constrained. It is
suggested that this aspect be reviewed.
1. Canals have much to offer for urban regeneration
but it does not just happen. A shared vision is required between
the key players (for Birmingham, BW and BCC).
2. The key players have to have the determination
and commitment to stick to the vision and see it through over
a number of years.
3. Pump priming is essential to demonstrate
that commitment, ensure quality of design and build confidence
in the value of waterways as a focus for regeneration.
4. The shared vision needs to be strengthened
not just by a jointly owned strategy document but also by planning
policy which explicitly and positively utilizes the strengths
of the waterway to achieve regeneration goals.
5. To achieve results, especially early
on in the process partners may have to accept opportunity costs,
perhaps in land values, or access/bridging rights, so as to avoid
deterring inward investment on key water-side sites. For BW and
local authorities this may require adjustment to their financial
guidelines and enabling legislation.
6. The certainty and confidence engendered
by 1 to 5 above does produce results. The Brindleyplace development
in Birmingham has produced in excess of 9,000 jobs.
7. Partners are constrained by having to
work within their legislative and/or constitutional framework.
This can cause problems in areas for which neither have responsibility
and/or funding. A good example of this is maintenance of improved
public realm elements of the canal such as the towpath. Revenue
responsibility for towpath maintenance is on the fringes of local
authority responsibility and BW is not under any obligation to
maintain the towpath. This needs rectifying. BW promotes the towpaths
for what they are, a publicly enjoyable asset. But they are constrained
from protecting the investment that they and, more often than
not others, have made in the improvement of this asset. Changes
to their legislative base and/or financial guidelines are needed.
Clarification by government of the use of Planning Obligations
to enable "endowing" improvements to the canal public
realm would also help.
8. A comprehensive approach to areas is
necessary to deliver a scheme. The best are those where all elements
are included in the scheme planning and all the relevant partners
are involved and committed. An example would be activity on the
water, which is vital to a complete and successful canal-side
9. A recent example of this is Birmingham's
City Centre Canal Corridor Planning Framework, currently draft
supplementary Planning Guidance. This provides a comprehensive
policy framework for approximately 5kms of canal in central Birmingham.
This is understood to be the first planning policy document to
be jointly authored by a local planning authority and BW.
13 November 2000