What is it about Birmingham’s regeneration?
It sailed along at a fair old rate of knots for ages and yet in recent years it seems to have got itself becalmed somewhat in that thorny old problem – politics.
Now, hot on the heels of the on-going library farce, we’re reliably informed by a committee of MPs that the £600m revamp of New Street railway station is nothing more than a cosmetic exercise and won’t be enough to cope with future demands.
Aside from wondering whether £600m can really be described as “cosmetic”, I cannot help feeling that the MPs criticism can not have come at a worse time for the scheme for Birmingham.
To have progress on one major regeneration scheme challenged by an influential body is regrettable enough, but to have two major schemes called into question smacks of a little more than carelessness.
And with the financial markets continuing to get twitchy and exaggerating every little blip into a credit crunch, both these schemes really need an injection of confidence at this moment in time and not further doubt and confusion.
Birmingham City Council was quick to tell us that the planned redevelopment of the Central Library was cracking on at a rapid rate, only for English Heritage to seek the Government approval to grant the existing city centre site listed status.
Just a few weeks later the cross-party Transport Select Committee has now said the much-vaunted New Street Gateway project is not enough to cope with the dramatic increase in passenger numbers over the next three decades. And the fact that the committee has suggested alternatives to New Street should be considered will now add weight to the on-going criticism that a major new railway station in Birmingham is the only viable option.
Both these interventions will have their supporters.
There is a growing feeling that the city’s Central Library should be saved, albeit not as a library. But the city council’s grand plans for an iconic (there’s that word again) library capable of securing an international profile does rely quite heavily on the existing site at Paradise Circus being bulldozed.
There is no denying New Street station desperately needs a major revamp and such is the state of the existing site and facilities there are many who strongly maintain an all-new purpose-built central station is the only long-term solution.
The fact is both these schemes have been talked about and talked about and subjected to delay upon delay. Now for both these schemes to be pooh-poohed suggests we could be in for yet more procrastination, political point scoring and delays.
Birmingham needs its progress of the last 20 years or so to continue.
Both these schemes are already long overdue and the last thing the city needs is for them to get shunted into the sidings.
(Note: I make no apologies for the railway and library puns and any mixed metaphors you might find as it is Monday morning).