The degeneration of Paradise Circus

Alan Clawley highlights the strange machinations that have blighted parts of Birmingham city centre.

Councillor Bore, supported now by his new ally, the Local Enterprise Partnership, likes to paint a picture of himself as the saviour of a run-down part of the city centre known as Paradise Circus. What he will not admit is that he himself is responsible for encouraging its degeneration.


Paradise Circus

As long ago as 1999, when the oldest building on Paradise Circus, the Central Library, was a mere 25 years old, Councillor Bore persuaded the Council to initiate a degeneration policy by announcing that the Library was ‘crumbling’ when anyone could see that it wasn’t. Already burdened with the Royal seal of disapproval, the Library was thus conveniently to hand to act like a Trojan Horse in which Councillor Bore and his supporters could set about conquering the rest of Paradise Circus. From then on, the Central Library was subjected to years of deliberate neglect and its good architect regularly insulted in the media. The advice of the government’s official advisor on architectural and historic buildings was rejected because to accept it would have reversed the process of degeneration.

It has taken 14 years for Paradise Circus to reach the point of being declared a Regeneration Zone even though every building that was on the site in 1999 is still standing and in use except for the recently vacated Central Library. So far the main element of Councillor Bore’s plan, relocating the Library, has been calculated to cost £590 million over the next 40 years. Now a sum of £61 million has been ‘allocated’ to the project by the LEP, purportedly to knock down the Library and all the other decent buildings on the site most of which were built after the Library.

So the process of degeneration is set to continue, whether by default or intent, perhaps for another decade. The empty Library will look increasingly shabby. The Compulsory Purchase Order will blight the privately-owned properties on the site as their owners will spend no money on their upkeep. Thus, after a couple of decades of degeneration, when there is no longer any alternative, the process of regeneration may finally commence.

Adrian Boult Hall and Library

Commercial property developers, who are always waiting in the wings for a redevelopment opportunity, will no doubt argue that degeneration is a natural and inevitable process, like growing old. They talk about buildings becoming obsolete, unfit for purpose, unsympathetic to their neighbours or simply unfashionable as if these things were beyond anyone’s control, but the history of Paradise Circus shows that degeneration can be deliberate.

However, as long as the buildings on Paradise Circus still stand it will be unclear whether the degeneration policy initiated so long ago by Councillor Bore has been successful in creating a site suitable for regeneration. According to the council the demolition of the Central Library which is only the first phase of a 15-year redevelopment plan, is not expected to start before 2015, so it will be some time before we find out.


4 thoughts on “The degeneration of Paradise Circus

  1. Any clarification of where the money is (hoped to be) coming from to pay for all this?

    • The council has borrowed the £186 million for the new library under the Prudential Borrowing regime created by Gordon Brown. The LEP is funded by central government. The developement of Paradise Circus is said to be funed by the BT Pension Fund who ‘own’ Argent plc. The council hopes to recoup any other costs through the increase in Business Rates created by the redevelopment of pradise Circus, although the Regeneration Zone will allow any new business that locate there to pay no rates for 25 years. This is to encourage new businesses to move onto the site that were not there before. I presume the Copthorne Hotel will pay for building its own new hotel on the site. As for the cost of re-locating the Conservatoire its anyone’s guess where the money comes from, but under Compulsory Purchase the council is supposed to pay them the current value to enable them to rebuild elsewnhere.

      • A somewhat complex picture then. One might hope the rates-free zone would give a boost to the area. Meanwhile the council that can no longer afford to replace street lights and fix potholes will somehow afford to replace the School of Music instead? I guess that was on page 99b of Sir Albert’s manifesto last year which is why they won the election.

  2. Meanwhile the latest “improvement” is a huge advertising screen on the Hyatt-ICC bridge over Broad Street, nicely positioned to distract drivers so they crash into pedestrians crossing from Centenary Squ. I suggest that is just more of the usual profits first, quality of environment last mentality from BCC. Which councillors thought that a good idea?

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