Exclusive: Birmingham to launch city-wide route based public realm strategy

 

Birmingham City Council is set to release a city-wide public realm strategy this June that will outline plans for major pedestrianisation schemes and be backed by tens of millions of investment, Transport Network can reveal.

The strategy will be a supplementary planning document and so tie in with the local authority’s work to regenerate the city centre with the arrival of HS2.

The news comes as council representatives attended the MIPIM festival in Cannes this week, the world’s biggest property and investment expo, hoping to secure £9bn of investment from developers to help build 80,000 new homes.

Speaking to Transport Network from MIPIM, Waheed Nazir, director for planning and regeneration at Birmingham City Council, said the city had been attracting huge interest for its newly-launched housing prospectus and wider infrastructure plans.

He went on to reveal: ‘In June we are going to be launching a public realm strategy, which sets out plans for all the primary spaces and primary routes. This will cover the whole of the city centre and could be the largest public realm strategy in the UK.’

Mr Nazir said the public realm investments would be a key aspect of the city’s regeneration plans, acting as a multiplier to growth from other developments and investments.

‘The importance of better public realm is that it allows higher density of development, greater productivity and better use of land to deliver greater growth.’

The strategy is set to contain proposals for taking away road space to provide improved pedestrian flow, clearer routes and improvements to the pedestrian experience.

‘Cities like Birmingham need to be more legible in terms of how people get around. At times travelling around the city can be confusing. We have had a challenge with public realm but we are looking to provide a much more free flow and pleasant pedestrian environment.’

Mr Nazir emphasised that town planners would give consideration to routes and how pedestrians move about the city between key areas, rather than just primary city quarters in isolation.

He added that £50m would be going into public realm improvements, with funding coming from a range of sources including prudential borrowing, the Local Growth Fund, the private sector and local business improvement districts, where a levy is charged on all business rate payers in addition to the business rates bill to help pay for such improvements.

The council has already employed prudential borrowing to pay for around £275m of projects including £30m towards extending the city’s Metro system. The money is paid back using business rates from the enterprise zone, which the local authority retains. It is expected to generate £1.2bn over the 25 years for the council.

Mr Nazir added: ‘We are currently looking at the financial model with our consultants KPMG for how we will fund transport and wider regenerations plans. On the 30 April we will submit our business case to government for the Local Enterprise Partnership’s HS2 Growth Strategy.'

‘No large HS2 site will be developed from a single funding source. We will be looking at Community Infrastructure Levy and land uplift value and Tax Incremental Financing. We will be hoping to capture land value increase principally through our property ownership.’

The news was welcomed by pedestrian charity Living Streets. Chief executive Joe Irvin commented: ‘Shifting priority from traffic flow to pedestrian connectivity suggests very progressive thinking on the part of Birmingham City Council and clearly recognises the health, environmental and economic benefits of investment in the public realm.

'Making our town and city centres walking-friendly is not just about pedestrian safety , but about creating a network of routes which make walking the preferred option. That a city such as Birmingham which has been an icon of car culture in previous decades to be leading the charge in this direction is especially to be applauded.’

 
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