Goodbye to culture

Alan Clawley is critical of Birmingham city council’s Eastside project.

The news that the Conservatoire is planning to move to Eastside in 2017 marks not only the revival of Sir Albert Bore’s old ambitions for that area but the final demise of cultural facilities in Paradise Circus. The developers of Paradise will now have a free hand to obliterate the remains of what was to be a cultural and civic centre and put up a set of buildings dedicated entirely to private profit. Even the token offer once made by the developer to replace the Adrian Boult Hall a few metres from its present location seems no longer necessary. This fine public concert hall will instead be part of the new £40 million School of Music out in Eastside.

Since the turn of the Century Sir Albert and his supporters have wanted to expand the City Centre into ‘Eastside’. They saw the Masshouse Circus Flyover as a ‘concrete collar’ that was strangling its growth. But despite demolishing the flyover in 2002 business didn’t immediately flood into the area and Millennium Point remained isolated. People didn’t accept Eastside as part of the real city centre especially as there were no shops to go to. Even the label ‘Eastside’ was wrong as it signified that it was east of the centre and not an integral part of it.

In 2003 the Council thought that building Richard Rogers’ super-library alongside Millennium Point would do the trick, but they couldn’t raise the money. It was abandoned in 2005. The planners had to settle instead for a hotel and an apartment block as close as possible to the city centre and Rogers went back to London.

After the crash of 2007 there was no private money about to redevelop the area in the way the City had hoped. The Council spent several million pounds on a new City Park in the hope of encouraging private developers to come forward, but only Birmingham City University had the money. BCU was allocated a site furthest from the city centre which was least attractive to developers. Its new campus partly housed the School of Art that had occupied a distinctive building in Margaret Street for over 100 years.

As if to concede the failure of private investment Eastside was labelled a  ‘Learning Quarter’. But even the possibility that it could be the home of some other educational and cultural activities was ruled out when the government announced that the High Speed Rail line would terminate in Eastside. IKON duly gave up its aspirations for a new gallery there.

But, never one to miss an opportunity, the Council now claimed HS2 as part of its strategy for the regeneration of Eastside, even though the numbers of passengers using the new station each day would only be 4,000 and part of its new City Park would have to be sacrificed.

Given the plethora of master plans and aborted schemes for Eastside perhaps it is time the Council and its planners admitted that long-term planning is impossible. City Council and central government move at a snail’s pace compared with the private sector and are less able to respond quickly to unexpected events. The council’s plan for the comprehensive redevelopment of Paradise Circus has already been on the drawing board for 14 years and is unlikely to be completed for another 15 years. HS2 may take even longer.

Our political masters will go on dreaming their dreams whilst hoping to convince us that they haven’t failed or that if they did fail they weren’t to blame. The danger is that if we no longer believe what they say, fail to hold them to account or give up the struggle to challenge their half-baked ideas, they will wreak their havoc on our city while we sleep. We have to outdo them in doggedness.

One thought on “Goodbye to culture

  1. Moving the Conservatoire to Eastside takes it a very long way from the CBSO Centre, Symphony Hall/Town Hall and the music library, the very places that the students need to avail thmeselves of. There will be no direct public transport link from the new building to these places, so goodness knows what a cellist or oboist will do, struggle up the hill, take a taxi? A stupid decision from people who understand nothing and run our city entirely for the needs of business rather than the citizens.

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