SHOW HILL MASTERPLAN CONSULTATION COMMENTS

Further to the release of the Snow Hill Masterplan February 2015 (SHMP) issued for consultation, Birmingham Civic Society’s Planning Committee have reviewed the document and have collated our comments in this letter.

The Birmingham Civic Society welcomes and supports the redevelopment of the Snow Hill area of the city. This is an important area of the city and requires a master plan to help retain and enhance our built heritage, guide and influence new development and improve the overall public realm.

Whilst the Birmingham Civic Society recognises that a high level approach is required in the early stages, much more detail is required to help guide and manage future development. Currently the SHMP significantly lacks this detail.

 

NEW DEVELOPMENT

The BCS Planning Committee felt that the proposed strengthening the business core within the Snow Hill area was positive and appropriate.

The BCS Planning Committee welcome the proposed development of the new St Mary’s Place.

There was concern that the SHMP does not consider the impact of the tall buildings upon the surrounding areas, particularly the Jewellery Quarter.

There is a significant increase in the amount of office space proposed for the SHMP and more broadly across the city. How does this impact/consider the significant increase of office space within the Paradise Circus redevelopment? The BCS Planning Committee are concerned that this approach of spreading the office development across the city will mean the loss of clearly defined civic spaces and reduce the impact of having a focused and appropriately located central business district. The Birmingham Civic Society’s Planning Committee feel that, if the CBD were to be focused primarily within the SHMP area, it would be appropriate to increase the heights of proposed new developments. The heights and locations of individual buildings will need to be considered on a case-by-case basis but the SHMP should be setting out guidelines for this to help and encourage new development.

 

PUBLIC REALM

There is concern over the proposed public realm within the SHMP. The SHMP indicates a series of public squares which is welcome, however the general streetscape and public realm areas are not sufficiently considered. The impact of this is that the overall public realm will not be improved across the area and there will be series of disconnected but improved squares. There should be a strategy for improving the whole area to create a consistent and coherent area of the city. The recent development of Church Street is cited within the SHMP. This is a positive space within the city. However, it demonstrates the ‘base level’ of what all of the streets/public realm areas of the city should be achieving rather than being the upper limit. This approach is being positively strengthened with Colmore BID’s proposals to extend the Church Street approach into other areas of the BID. This is very welcome and demonstrates that it should be continued through the entire area. The SHMP has the opportunity to embrace this approach and apply it to all of the streets.

We feel that the SHMP does not consider or include sufficient detail regarding an approach to soft landscaping.

The SHMP does not describe how the proposals will “join-up” with other areas of the city undergoing significant change during the same period – notably the redevelopment of Paradise Circus.

There should be a requirement for active ground floor uses that will help to enliven the public realm.

 

HERITAGE

It was encouraging to see that the built heritage was noted throughout the document. It is encouraging to see that some of the primary heritage assets are noted however there are significantly more within the area that are not included. These should be noted within the SHMP to help inform and guide new development surrounding them. The SHMP does not go far enough in encouraging and promoting retention and reuse of the heritage assets within the area. Not all of the Statutory or Locally Listed buildings are referenced and so the SHMP fails to recognise the importance of these buildings within this area.

 

TRANSPORT

There should be a more detailed programme of delivery of the SHMP, particularly infrastructure works such as the proposed works to the A38. The SHMP does not go far enough in detailing the proposed works, how they will be delivered and the impact upon the city during works. During the consultation on Paradise Circus, there were significant comments on the restrictions of the A38 tunnel on the development. How are the SHMP proposals for the A38 impacting/integrating with this?

One of the main focuses of the SHMP is about improving connectivity of this area to the surrounding areas, particularly towards the Jewellery Quarter and Gun Quarter. A key visual in the document is the view across the proposed levelling of Great Charles Street which will improve access between the city core and the Jewellery Quarter. Yet there are no details setting out how this will be achieved. This is a missed opportunity for Birmingham City Council to lead the way in resolving an issue that has restricted city growth over a number of decades.

We support the principle for reducing the use of private cars within the city centre, however to allow public transport to become a realistic alternative for those using the centre, detailed improvements of the public transport infrastructure need to be provided. There will always be some need for private car use within/around the city centre. How is this being accommodated/managed within the SHMP?

The SHMP does not sufficiently describe what is proposed to happen to the current bus stops on Colmore Row. This needs to be considered and included within the SHMP to ensure that it is considered.

 

DESIGN QUALITY

The SHMP often refers to ‘high quality design’ but does not indicate any independent/recognised benchmarks for assessing this or guidance on how potential developers can ensure that high design quality is at the heart of their proposals. For example, there is no reference to new developments being reviewed by CABE’s Design Review panel nor are there any specific guidelines for achieving sustainable design (minimum BREEAM level required for new developments?).

 

DELIVERY

There is concern on how the SHMP will be delivered and controlled as it will not be given statutory status. Therefore any new development will not be required to adhere to the principles outlined.

The delivery section of the SHMP is minimal and lacks any ability to assess/monitor/review progress. The very broad timescales indicated are too vague and needs to be much more detailed to allow for comment/input.

 

SUMMARY

In summary, the Birmingham Civic Society Planning Committee welcome the intent and high-level aspirational approach outlined within the Snow Hill Masterplan, however it lacks sufficient detail to enable potential developers to understand what is proposed. It is encouraging to see Birmingham’s built heritage referenced and that new developments should respect and consider these, however not all of the Statutory or Locally Listed buildings are referenced and so the Snow Hill Masterplan fails to recognise the importance of these buildings within this area. There is serious concern regarding the transport infrastructure proposed due to the severe lack of detail – both on what is proposed and how existing movement around this area will be managed. There is little reference within the Snow Hill Masterplan on how the proposals will be integrated with other areas of the city – particularly the redevelopment of Paradise Circus. If this information is being developed, then the master plan should clearly set out the timescales for this to be issued for further consultation. The lack of information/milestones on the proposed timescales is very concerning. Whilst we appreciate that this is a 20 year plan, simply noting whether items are short/medium/long term is insufficient and naive.

There is an opportunity to make a real difference to the quality of life within the city centre and Birmingham Civic Society welcome the opportunity to comment and influence the masterplan. We look forward to receiving a response on the concerns we have raised and to see how the masterplan is developed to address these.