The invisible planner

Who’s in charge? asks Alan Clawley.

If there is someone in the council planning and co-ordinating the development of Birmingham he or she is making a pretty bad job of it. For example, after telling us for months to avoid Paradise Circus and to use the Middleway the council is now tearing up the roundabouts.

On the approach to Haden Circus one yellow warning sign tells us to avoid Paradise Circus and use the ring road while the other warns of delays due to road works on the Ring Road. They can actually be seen together. It’s no wonder that we now disbelieve anything that the council tells us.

Now they are to borrow £2.1 million to adapt the two-year old Library of Birmingham so that the Brasshouse Language Centre can move in next year. By the way, the council hopes to recoup the cost of the loan by selling the Brasshouse building like they once hoped to repay the £200 million loan for the new library by selling off Paradise Circus although that hasn’t happened yet. The departed Chief Librarian Brian Gambles promised many things for the new library but he never mentioned the idea of housing a fully-fledged language school on the first floor.

I have always suspected that the bland generic design of the new library was intentional. It looks to me more like an office block than a place where books are kept (apologies to HRH Prince Charles).

Did Mike Whitby harbour a secret ambition that one day it could become a City Hall to rival Boris Johnson’s glass palace in London? The fact that that Sir Albert Bore was recently interviewed and photographed on the balcony overlooking Centenary Square suggests that he for one rather fancies the idea.
That would leave the Council House almost devoid of purpose but even this demolition-mad council wouldn’t dare to demolish it, although they would rather have another skyscraper to accompany the one replacing Madin’s NatWest tower just along Colmore Row.

London’s County Hall, once the seat of the Greater London Council, was sold off and turned into a hotel so it’s not fanciful to imagine the same happening to our antique Council House. The Council Chamber could be turned into a Museum of Local Democracy to remind us of the time when it was the debating arena for 120 locally elected councillors.

We can only fantasise but when powerful council leaders have their private daydreams they are quite capable of turning them into reality one way or another. That’s when any kind of rational planning goes by the board.