Photo credit: Birmingham Masterplan and BCC.

Birmingham City Council
Planning and Regeneration
1 Lancaster Circus Queensway
Birmingham B4 7DJ

06.07.16

Dear Josie,

Thank you for coming to present Birmingham City Council’s proposed Smithfield Masterplan as part of the consultation on the draft document. Our Planning Committee found the presentation and following discussion very helpful in understanding the vision for the area and also the potential of this historically important area of our city.

The Society’s Planning Committee felt that there is a great opportunity for the redevelopment of the wholesale markets. It has the potential to create a distinct and unique area of our city that will benefit not only our citizens in the day-to-day but also for our growing businesses and visitor numbers. There is opportunity to attract external investment to assist in delivering the masterplan, however a lot of care and attention is required to ensure that the Smithfield area doesn’t simply become ‘development for developments sake’ or a series of numbers on a table to meet targets. It needs to create a vibrant, exciting and pleasant neighbourhood for people to live, work and play not only for the immediate but also for future generations. Whilst we felt that the spirit of this was reflected within the draft masterplan, there are serious concerns over the lack of detail throughout the masterplan. It is essential that the masterplan and supporting documents set out clearly the specific requirements of development. The concern is that if this is not established within this critical early stage, across the life of the redevelopment (currently estimated as being 20 years) the full-potential for the site will not be realised. The Society’s Planning Committee feel that Birmingham City Council should be bolder and more explicit it establishing the highest of standards expected from developments within the masterplan area.

I have summarised the main points/comments of the discussion below for incorporating into the consultation feedback. Due to the time constraints we had at the meeting, we have elaborated on some of the items discussed which I trust will be useful and help explain our thoughts/comments further. The comments have been collated into the general ‘themes’ discussed.

Proposed Uses

  • There was concern raised regarding the proposed mixed-use particularly regarding market use and private residential uses. The masterplan needs to set out how servicing/deliveries going to be managed to ensure that there is not a negative impact upon the residential properties.
  • The proposed mixed-use was welcomed however it was felt that the commercial units need to be viable for smaller, independent businesses rather than the typical high street brands. Independents and start-up business would reflect the character of the existing area and also offer Birmingham and Smithfield a ‘different’ and unique experience.
  • The masterplan needs to include how the proposed uses for smaller, independent retail will be encouraged and not be ‘over-taken’ by bigger retail.
  • There was concern raised over Festival Square and whether this offer would conflict with similar large scale external spaces within the city, such as the redevelopment of Centenary Square.
  • The masterplan notes that there is an agenda to create a city centre leisure offer which was welcomed however there were concerns raised over the viability of these uses. The masterplan needs to clearly identify potential suitable leisure uses to ensure that they are financially viable.
  • The masterplan needs to clearly set out the housing tenure to ensure that it attracts a variety of residents that reflects the diversity and housing needs off the city. This should include family housing.

Transport

  • It was suggested that Smithfield could be a car-free, pedestrian friendly area of the city – perhaps with car parks located on the edge of the masterplan area.
  • The masterplan should set targets for car parking levels. It was firmly believed that there would need to be some offer of private parking within the development however this needs to be balanced and coordinated with a broader public transport offer.
  • Brindley Place was noted as a particularly successful development in terms of creating a pedestrian friendly environment without excluding cars.
  • It is recommended that a detailed plan of the transport infrastructure is prepared and implemented to ensure that the development is accessible in the first instance.

Heritage, Architecture and the Built Environment

  • There is insufficient information with in the masterplan regarding the unique character of this area of Birmingham and how any future development with reflect this in a suitable manner.
  • The masterplan refers to the desire to create a ‘high quality’ built environment however there are no specific guidelines/standards noted as a benchmark to ensure this is delivered. This should be explicitly detailed within the masterplan to ensure that high quality design, architecture and the broader built environment is achieved. We recommend that all developments with the Smithfield masterplan be required to undergo an external, independent, multi-disciplinary design review panel, such as the CABE Design Review provided by the Design Council, as well as continued consultation with key city stakeholder groups and organisations.
  • There needs to be clear guidance and details provided on the quality of materials expected through the masterplan. This needs to include a strategy for maintenance to ensure the the built environment is deliverable and manageable.
  • There were concerns over the ‘tower’ indicated within the masterplan which contains no justification for it’s location, height or, more importantly, why it is needed. It is out of context and dominates the surrounding buildings/areas which is currently defined by low-medium height blocks.
  • It is recommended that a supporting Smithfield Masterplan Design Guide is prepared that will provide relevant, detailed and supporting information. This will help guide development, maintain quality and ensure that there is a consistent and legible approach across the masterplan area.

Green space

  • The masterplan outlines a linear park and notes the potential for urban orchards and allotments which is welcomed however there is very little detail or clarity on how these will be incorporated within developments. There was concern that these will not be enforced.
  • It was felt that the masterplan doesn’t go far enough in this respect. It should set out that all of the streets within the masterplan are to become ‘linear parks’ and that all of the rooftops are to be green roofs with urban orchards and garden spaces.
  • The masterplan needs to set out a very clear agenda for the integration of landscaping/green spaces across the whole of the masterplan.
  • It was felt that there needs to be better integration between buildings and landscape. The masterplan currently implies too much distinction between these approaches to the urban environment.

City-Wide Connections

  • There was concern raised regarding the ‘contained’ nature of the masterplan. It does not appear to address or connect with the adjacent sites.
  • The masterplan does not demonstrate how it will integrate and co-ordinate with other major redevelopments within the city, such as Paradise and Snow Hill. The masterplan needs to set out how these major areas of investment and development across our city work together. There was general concern that the city centre will become a series of disconnected redevelopments that do not compliment and integrate with the surrounding city or each other.
  • There is clear opportunity for the Smithfield masterplan to embrace and lead the way in recent strategies developed by Birmingham City Council, such as the Public Art Strategy (March 2015), however this or similar strategies are not mentioned within the masterplan.

Delivery

  • The masterplan sets out out the redevelopment of a large area of the city that will have an impact upon adjacent sites and general city infrastructure for the next 20 years. The masterplan needs to set out how this will be managed and co-ordinated.
  • The masterplan needs to clearly set out the programme of delivery over the next 20 years with clearly defined milestones.
  • Further clarity is required on potential partnerships in the redevelopment of Smithfield. The Planning Committee recognise that this is likely to be the most viable approach to redeveloping the area however there needs to be clear and specific controls in place to ensure that the vision for Smithfield doesn’t become lost.
  • There needs to be a strategy for meanwhiles uses developed to ensure that the area does not become vacant/under-used whilst the masterplan is being developed and delivered.

I hope that the above is helpful and accurately reflects the discussion we had at the meeting. As mentioned, if Birmingham Civic Society and our Planning Committee can be of any further assistance in helping to shape and inform the masterplan and any future supporting documents, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Thank you once again for taking the time to meet with us and present the draft masterplan.
Yours sincerely,

Gavin Orton, Chairman
The Birmingham Civic Society.
cc. R. Cowell – Birmingham City Council