The black hole of Birmingham has long been overdue a complete redevelopment.

New Street railway station has to rank as one of the worst in Europe, despite the fact that it is a major hub for cross-country train services in the UK.

Having previously spent five years commuting into the depressingly gloomy tunnels of New Street five or six days a week, the confirmation that the station was finally to get the investment it has lacked for decades was welcome news.

What wasn’t so pleasing was the original design produced for the £550m project.

Now it seems that Birmingham City Council and Network Rail, which are spearheading the scheme, have listened to the criticism of the original plans. Given the status of New Street, its location in the heart of a revitalised Birmingham city centre and the money being pumped into the project, the plans released at the time the go-ahead was given lacked any sort of redeeming qualities.

Lacking in imagination, the proposed new international gateway to Birmingham resembled more of a faceless strip mall or multiplex cinema than a truly landmark building.

That scheme has now been scrapped in favour of an international architectural competition to create the new station facade and atrium above the main passenger concourses.

Elements of the original plans remain, but the £40 million contest is designed to provide Birmingham with the iconic new station it deserves.

The Royal Institute of British Architects has been asked to launch and manage the selection process for a concept designer to develop an “overarching building vision” for the project.

A shortlist of six architects will be announced next month, with each company chosen to participate receiving a £10,000 payment.

This is great news for Birmingham. On top of finally getting the new international standard train station it needs, the city could also have another addition to its growing portfolio of landmark sites (one of the main criticisms of Birmingham’s ill-fated Capital of Culture bid was a lack of iconic buildings).

The opportunity now exists for Birmingham to create the kind of buzz that the newly re-opened St Pancras station in London continues to generate.

Next month’s shortlist will (hopefully) make interesting viewing.

Footnote: The shortlist of six has now been announced and the winner announced in April.



2 responses »

  1. A Marshall says:

    It doesn’t matter how iconic the design is at street level, nothing will or can be done to improve the capacity of New Street station at track and platform level. The tunnels at either end prevent platform lengthening, and there is no space on either side to provide extra platforms.

    The proposed Central Station in the Curzon Street area, linked directly with the existing Moor Street station at the upper level, makes vastly more sense from a railway operating point of view — including providing capacity for a new high speed route from London (and the Continent), and scope for continuing, future growth in passenger numbers.

  2. Paul Groves says:

    Absolutely, but that would require a level of joined up thinking that is apparently beyond any of our political leaders (at a local or national level). The whole New Street revamp is fundamentally flawed, but against all odds we might just about scrape the best out of a bad job.

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