Alan Clawley writes to Rob Groves, the man responsible for overseeing the Paradise Forum development.
For the second time in half a century Birmingham has set out to comprehensively develop Paradise Circus. John Madin’s master plan of 1965 was scuppered by the economic crisis of 1974 and large parts of the site were never built on as intended or even at all. Now the council’s second attempt at developing the site in one fell swoop looks like unravelling.
The easiest bit, re-locating the Central Library, has been done well enough, albeit at enormous cost to the public purse and because the council could control the entire process. But the Conservatoire is a more difficult case to deal with. It can’t move without somewhere to go and their home is still only on the drawing board. The Copthorne Hotel can’t build their new tower until it has gone which, if all goes well, will be 2017. Who knows what the demand for hotel beds will be by then.
Knocking down the Central Library just to make way for a couple of speculative generic office blocks looks over-hasty. Dealing with the concrete substructure won’t be easy and there must be a risk of the site being left as a gaping hole for years until a firm tenant is signed up for the first building. People will have to be herded through the site and protected from the demolition work. The observation that elsewhere in the city centre 1970s office blocks are being converted to luxury apartments and hotels doesn’t give cause for optimism that demand for such offices really exists.
Closing half of the Circus to traffic is puzzling and needlessly upsetting. It will be seen as meddling with a roundabout that works well enough as it is. The only complaints I ever heard were from the long-departed Clive Dutton, who didn’t like the sound of traffic “thundering past the Town Hall”. To make matters worse the new road layout will be temporary until the Conservatoire is demolished and the Metro line comes through to Centenary Square at some unknown date.
All things considered, it doesn’t look like a propitious start to a so-called comprehensive development scheme. Some of the 57 conditions attached to the 2012 planning application have already been changed to match the unforeseen necessity of ‘phasing’ and to allow the developer to comply with them one-by-one. The danger with this approach is that circumstances over which the developer has no control will continue to dictate the pace of new building and may even cause the master plan to be abandoned altogether like Madin’s was. Instead of waiting until all the buildings can be demolished at the same time and the site developed comprehensively it will be done in fits and starts over 11 years during which Paradise Circus will be in a state of continuous upheaval and incompleteness.
If you believe in comprehensive development it makes no sense to demolish the Central Library while other buildings remain standing for three or more years. You should bide your time until everything is ready to go. And in the meantime you could make the site as pleasant as possible by keeping all the buildings occupied and looked after for as long as possible.