It’s all happening in Birmingham

Conscious that I have not been writing on here for a while (due to starting my new job!) I have an opportunity so must take it!  Firstly, I want to post a reminder that it is the 40th anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings this evening.  The Birmingham Mail are campaigning for justice for the families of those killed and the many people injured that terrible night.  I am young enough to have not been around when the bombs went off although I am old enough to remember the 80s, living in London, and the frequent bomb threats that shut Waterloo station and other places frequently.  It seems like a very long time ago, as did the recent 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall – which I do remember.

But, to move on from the melancholy of the past to the optimism of a better future and specifically for my home city of Birmingham.  I was delighted to attend the launch of the Birmingham Mobility Action Plan (BMAP) last week.  Real schemes, big ideas and a challenge to existing thinking.  What could we achieve if we think big and push the boundaries?  There is a lot to be excited about for Birmingham – in 2015 we will see the opening of New Street station, the Grand Central centre above it, the new John Lewis, the new look Mailbox and the Midland Metro City Centre extension.  And that is the near future.

So what of further ahead?  Midland Metro being extended to Centenary Square in 2017 along with further extensions to HS2, Eastside and Digbeth as well as up Broad Street to Five Ways.  The arrival of HS2 in 2026.  Developments all across the Eastside as the City Centre expands across the site of the former stranglehold of the Concrete Collar.  to the West, Paradise will be redeveloped and the Arena Central site will emerge.

Now for the connection back to the BMAP document – the burying of the A38 in the St Chads area to reconnect the Colmore Business District and the Jewellery Quarter across a beautified Great Charles St Boulevard that serves public transport, pedestrians, cyclists and perhaps the odd car… How this is never placed at the top of the agenda I do not know.  The Jewellery Quarter, and the Gun Quarter, are real jewels in Birmingham’s heritage and place.   Cut off by insanely busy massive roads that care little for the place and the people in and around it.

Over to the railway.  I have discussed frequently the proposal for a Birmingham CrossCity rail network with high frequency metro rail routes connecting North, South, East and West with new platforms under New Street and under HS2 at Curzon Street.  The Independent Transport Commission produced a fascinating report on the potential for high speed rail, which you can read here.  One of the many interesting points they make is the benefits of through stations over terminating stations.  Now let us be pragmatic, Curzon Street/Moor Street will bring wider benefits for the city and the wider region and is well-sited and will be well-connected.  But we would all profit from additional connectivity onto the rail network with the CrossCity proposal.  That new interconnectivity could also support the wider region with more through trains serving both New Street and Curzon Street and connecting out to Worcester, Shrewsbury, Tamworth, Derby and beyond.

There is a long way to go and a lot to work on.  But there is ambition, there is vision and there is a real hope and optimism and collective spirit emerging across the West Midlands that makes me really believe that things are changing, things can happen, we can do things here – like we see other areas pushing for change and powers and funding to make their own destinies.  So we should remember the past and how it shaped us and at the same time perhaps we should be bolder, that there is a bright future and there is the potential to achieve great things in the West Midlands.

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