Birmingham’s Cycle City Ambition

Recently Birmingham City Council have confirmed that they will be submitting a bid for £17M of funds from the Department for Transport as part of the Cycle City Ambition grants announced by Norman Baker. In total the DFT have released £42M, which is to be spent as £30M on urban cycling improvements, and £12M on rural elements (National Parks).

The Government indicate that:

‘for the urban element there will be a maximum of 3 Cycle City Ambition Grants…However, as an indication of our approach, we might expect to support one First Wave 1 city and two cities bidding to be Second Wave cities.’
Cycle city ambition grants guidance [PDF]

This means that Birmingham will be competing against the other Wave 1 City Deal cities:

  • Leeds,
  • Sheffield,
  • Newcastle,
  • Bristol,
  • Liverpool,
  • Manchester, and
  • Nottingham.

If Birmingham is successful the £17M of central funds (alongside £5.9M of local funding) will be spent by 2016, and is part of the overall strategy of the Birmingham Cycle Revolution which is looking to make the city better focussed for cycling as part of a 20 year plan.  It also helps to deliver upon the council’s Vision for Movement, as well as showing that the council recognise that a modal shift towards cycling is needed.

A report before the council on 9 April 2013 ‘Changing Gear: Transforming Urban Movement through Cycling and Walking in Birmingham’ shows that Birmingham is considering the actions needed to make it a better environment for cycling.

The simple truth is that at the moment we do not have the infrastructure that helps to support a culture of cycling.  Below the current state of the cycle network can be seen:

The £22.9M of funds would be used to deliver:

  • Main Corridors – measures along eight of the main arterial routes into the city centre, which will generally be suitable for more experienced / confident commuter cyclists;
  • Parallel Routes – a network of generally quieter routes running parallel to the main corridors, but also linking to local schools, health centres, parks and other community facilities, and suitable for less experienced cyclists and family trips as well as commuters;
  • City Centre – a series of mostly minor measures, including some contraflow cycle facilities, to improve routes into and through the city core;
  • Green Routes – improvements and extensions to the existing network of ‘off-road’ routes such as Rea Valley, Cole Valley and Tame Valley particularly suitable for family and leisure cycling, and so supporting the tourism economy, but also available for commuter cyclists;
  • Canal Towpaths – extensive improvements to towpaths to provided a sealed surface more suitable for all-weather cycling, suitable for leisure and commuter cyclists;
  • Supporting Measures – items such as cycle hire, parking and hubs, wayfinding, a significant extension of 20mph areas, and bike loans to encourage and assist more people to cycle and stimulate local cycling manufacture; and
  • Smarter Choices – supporting package of revenue-funded promotional, mapping, marketing, educational and training measures to promote cycling to local residents and businesses.

This would mean that by 2016 the cycle network in Birmingham would look like:

Birmingham will find out by June 2013 whether it has been successful in the bid for funds. The real question is what will happen to the Birmingham Cycle Revolution with only £5.9M of local funding, as that will not stretch too far.

Icknield Port Loop


Outline planning application for demolition of buildings and a mixed use redevelopment of up to 1150 dwellings, retail, service, employment, leisure and non-residential institutions uses (Use Class C3, B1, A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, D1 & D2) of up to 6960 square metres (gross internal area) (including up to 2500 square metres of retail) (gross internal area) together with hotel and community facilities, open space, landscaping and associated works including roads, cycleways, footpaths, car parking and canal crossings. Change of use of industrial buildings fronting Rotton Park Street to leisure, retail and non-residential institutions (Use Class A1, A2, A3, A4, A5, B1, D1 & D2)

Icknield Port Loop is a recently approved outline plan for a new housing development that will include a hotel, pub, supermarket and a community centre. The site has been identified for many years as being a suitable place for development.  It is located between Edgbaston and Ladywood, just near Edgbaston reservoir, and its main feature is the the Icknield Port Loop canal that runs through the site.

What makes this site different to most new housing developments is the fact that it is close to the city centre (just a 10 minute walk from NIA along the canal), and that it will be a mixture of housing densities. The plans indicate that it won’t be run of the mill semi detached houses, and that whilst there will be apartments on the site they won’t be in the majority. Instead the site will have some innovative housing types that are shown further below.

The revised Design & Access Statement (Part I and Part II) have addressed some earlier concerns with the original plan and include a wider canal path around the side (as opposed to no path, and just houses being up to the waters edge on both side).

Due to the mix of densities proposed there are quite a few different housetypes proposed, the most controversial type proposed in the plan, and whilst they mention how they are popular in the Netherlands there has been some comparison to the Victorian back-to-backs.

“I am not convinced that people want courtyard living, particularly if you share the space with a noisy family. Wherever they are in the world these things quickly become slums.”
Councillor Barry Henley

Though the site also has some modern interpretations of terraced and other low density houses such as the monument type.  Overall the feeling from the outline plan is that the mixture of densities will give the area its own distinct zones and have their own communities, but are joined together through the use of the parkland and canal network.

It’s certainly better than the current cleared land, and hopefully construction will get under way in 2013, in a phased approach.  The overall intention is ‘to create by 2025, a high-quality, family orientated, sustainable and mixed use waterside neighbourhood’, and I think these plans will help improve the area as a whole.

Courtyard houses

These are based on the Dutch model. We are showing one type that works as a back to back with an internal parking space and courtyard and a roof garden. Another type works as a through house backing onto the canal.

Waterside Houses:

These are houses that fill the entire plot and run from the back of pavement to the waters edge. They include an internal courtyard and parking and roof gardens plus the possibility of a private mooring.

‘Monument Houses’ – Modern terraced housing in the lower density areas:

Paradise Circus Redevelopment


Outline planning application (all matters reserved save for access) for demolition of all buildings on the site (save for the Joseph Chamberlain Memorial) and commercial led mixed use redevelopment of up to 170,012 square metres gross internal floorspace, comprising offices (Use Class B1a), retail and leisure units (Use Classes A1/A2/A3/A4/A5/D1/D2), concert hall (D2), energy centre (Sui Generis), together with a hotel of up to 250 bedrooms (Use Class C1), car parking, highways works (to include the closure of eastern arm of Paradise Circus gyratory), public realm improvements and associated works including alterations to public rights of way.

The Paradise Circus redevelopment is a contentious one, mainly due to the presence of the Birmingham Central Library which was designed by John Madin and is set to be demolished if the plans get approved.  Though the building has been recommended for local listing by English Heritage, it has never achieved that status and the council have a Certificate of Immunity order on the building, preventing it from being listed.

The council have established an exclusivity agreement with Argent, who were behind the creation of Brindleyplace, with a view to sign a joint venture relationship for the redevelopment of the site once planning permission has been granted.
Whilst we await the final decision regarding the outline, it was interesting to see how the current plans look from a historical perspective.  As well as seeing how the proposal brings the area back to the public, both from an ease of access routes (especially down Congreve Passage to Summer Row) and also improvements to the public realm with two new squares, and the improvement to Chamberlain Square.

Town Hall and Council House - March 1921 (Britain From Above)

Whilst the future of the Central Library is an evocative topic, it cannot be ignored that the site plan does not facilitate access through it, or around it.  Areas such as Fletchers Walk, Paradise Place towards Summer Row, and Congreve passage are not the most accessible. Looking at the plans it shows that consideration has been given to the pedestrian flow, and there are a lot more ways to navigate across the site.
One of the main changes to the road layout is the closure of eastern arm of Paradise Circus gyratory (i.e the bit that runs under the Library).  There are also quite a lot of roads that would need to be reconfigured because of this.
Recently on 11 October 2012 the council Planning Committee met, and an item on the agenda was to discuss issues related to the planning application [PDF], this revealed some potential S106 planing obligations including:
  • Transport contribution – to include works to facilitate the next phases of Metro and contributions to public transport including Interconnect (new bus shelters and totem signage)
  • Public realm improvements – in particular to Chamberlain Square, Town Hall surroundings and Centenary Square – approximately £2.65m
  • Contributions to Wayfinding signage both into and around the site – £180,000
  • Easy Row subway improvements linking through to Arena Central – approximately £150,000.

National Indoor Arena Refurbishment


Extension and refurbishment scheme to include enhanced ancillary retail areas (Use classes A1, A3, A4 and A5), external facade works, erection of 3 no. ‘Sky Needles’ signage, landscape and public realm works. 

For those familiar with Brindleyplace the layout of the NIA complex is at odds with the more common access routes to the venue.  If you enter through Brindleyplace you end up walking across the bridges over the canals and ending up at the service area of the venue, and also facing a rather plain looking building.  The approved plans for the refurbishment of the NIA take into account its setting against the canal network, and open up the area through better access whilst also improving the facade.

Set to undergo a £20.6 million transformation, the modernisation of the NIA aims to take advantage of its unique location on the city’s canal side and will feature a new showcase entrance straight from Brindleyplace into the arena, with large glazed views over the water and the city.

Work will get underway in late 2012 and will include improved facilities and a much greater emphasis on both the pre and post show experience. Coupled with an exciting partnership with Barclaycard, the NIA will offer a vastly improved experience for anyone setting foot in the arena.
[Future NIA]

Unfortunately the refurbishment does not encompass the whole exterior of the venue, and the car park around the back will still look odd and dull once this work has finished.

That said the creation of retail/food/drink units fronting the canalside, will certainly help people interact with this side of the building and help improve the public realm in the longer term.

Curzon Street Station

Change of use to exhibition galleries (D1), ancillary cafe and associated internal alterations and landscaping works.

Curzon Street Station - Part of Curzon SquareToday the planning committee approved the plans submitted by Ikon Gallery to refurbish the Curzon Street Station and prepare it for use as a gallery.  This is part of the wider Curzon Square proposal.

Ikon proposes Curzon Square to be Birmingham’s new museum quarter. Comprising Ikon 2, a museum of contemporary art and temporary exhibition space, a museum of photography and a building for an existing national collection, it will be the vital factor in an equation that results in cultural league success for the city.

Curzon Street Station is to be the new Museum of Photography, drawing from the extensive collection of the new Library of Birmingham. Further information on the Curzon Square proposal can be seen below.