As part of our ongoing planning work Birmingham Friends of the Earth responded to the recent consultation on the Digbeth Corridor Strategy being prepared by consultants Atkins on behalf of Birmingham City Council. The concerns and suggestions that we raised in our response are in the excerpt from our letter below:
BFoE Digbeth Corridor Strategy Consultation Response
We feel the disused Digbeth viaduct spur could be put to use as a high level park, perhaps run in conjunction with the local community. This could act as both a community project, local park, wildlife haven and an attractive route through the area linking some of its best known features. Staircase links would be required at regular intervals, such as where the viaduct crosses streets, as well as at its junction with the Grand Union Canal near The Bond, and a link to the Custard Factory. This could take a similar form at the ‘High Line Park’ in New York.
The reopening of Bordesley railway station with a full rail service (rather than ‘parliamentary service’ that currently serves the station) would enable better access to Digbeth, in particularly the Deritend, Bordesley and Highgate areas. Something we have been campaigning in favour of for some time is for the construction of the ‘Bordesley Curves’ – two connecting rail links to enable the Camp Hill Line to have access into Moor Street Station. This would allow new local rail services from South Birmingham (Balsall Heath, Moseley, King’s Heath, Stirchley & King’s Norton) and North Birmingham (Saltley, Fort Dunlop, Castle Bromwich, Minworth, Sutton Coldfield, Streetly, Aldridge & Walsall). This would enable more people to access Digbeth and the City Centre by rail, but also help reduce traffic coming in from the Alcester Road. Land for these proposed curves should be protected in planning policy. We feel a second entrance to Moor Street Station should be considered, and this could be located under the railway bridge as it passes over Park Street. This would allow a more direct connection to Digbeth from Moor Street Station.
Improve an alternative (to High Street) route through central Digbeth from the city core to the Custard Factory. This utilise the following route; Carrs Lane, Shaw’s Passage (this street would need extending over Park Street to Moor Street Queensway, probably using steps and a bridge over the railway cutting), Allison Street under Digbeth viaduct, Coventry Street, Milk Street, Moore’s Row, and the existing workers entrance to the Custard Factory (Devonshire Works as marked above the door) over the existing covered footbridge over the River Rea. This route could be made very pedestrian and cyclist friendly and provide the opportunity for more public businesses (such as shops, cafes & galleries) to line this route. The above route could possibly be supplemented at a later date by a route under Digbeth viaduct using the cross arches under the viaduct stantions. This too would benefit from the extension of Shaw’s Passage over the railway cutting to gain access to Carrs Lane and the city core. This viaduct route could form a string of shops and markets based under the viaduct arches.
Improvement of Digbeth & Deritend High Street. This should have the carriageway narrowed, a wide pedestrian friendly central reservation created, and wide pavements with off road cycle paths. It could possibly be tree lined in a manner similar to Moor Street Queensway. All pedestrian barriers and other street clutter should be removed to make a more welcoming environment. Opportunities for existing pubs and cafes to spill out onto the wide pavement area would be obvious. Generally the aim should be to create a ‘street’ atmosphere with slowed and less dominant traffic. There is a need to address the poor quality crossings all along High Street. These need to be wide and easy to negotiate (i.e. no staggering on central reservation) and should be located on desire lines which would line through with cross streets. Connections are particularly bad across Park Street and the city core end of High Street despite many of these crossings being relatively new.
Removal of the High Street/Moat Lane gyratory system should be considered. This could be reconfigured to two way traffic along High Street, plus have Upper Dean Street link through to this (although may require demolition of a building). This would allow the extension of the rather restricted outdoor market over into the new space created.
Look at the possibilities for the replanning of the Wholesale Market site when this is moved out of town. This should concentrate on the reconstruction of the historic street pattern that links the existing North-South and East-West routes together. Key routes would be: Link Cheapside with Jamaica Row Link Moseley Street with Dean Street and onwards to Gloucester Street Link Bromsgrove Street with Allison Street Link Sherlock Street with Meriden Street and onwards to New Canal Street Option also exist for marking the historic position of the moat that once surrounded the former Birmingham manor house. This could take the form of a water feature. The Wholesale Market site should seek to enhance and extend the Bullring Indoor & Outdoor Markets with options for a food quarter. This could perhaps be informed by contemporary markets in London, such as Borough Market or Spittlefields Market, as well as by the original Smithfield Market that once stood on the current Wholesale Market site. Additional local auxiliary facilities for the existing Outdoor Market traders will also need to be put in place following the relocation of the Wholesale Market. These would include delivery areas and indoor storage areas for stock. The proposals should seek the enhancement of other key routes through Digbeth other than the ones mentioned above, such as; Meriden Street/New Canal Street, Fazeley Street and Heath Mill Lane.
Enhancement and realisation of the potential of the canals should be carried out. This could involve the opening up of some parts of canals to streets thereby creating more Dutch style (where the canal is the focus – not hidden away out of sight) canal frontages, which could be very desirable for city centre family housing and would help improve security of canalside areas. Possibilities for creating new canal basins should be explored, so that floating communities could be created featuring houseboats and officeboats. Two possible locations for these would be Typhoo Wharf (where the existing arm could be enlarged), and Bordesley Top Lock (this marks the limit that wide beam boats can navigate, so could be a significant destination for leisure boaters from Southern England where wide canals predominate). The River Rea should be opened up to create more views and experiences of it travelling through Birmingham, with opportunities to get down to water level at a few points. The wildlife potential of the river should also be taken advantage of, enhancing it into a green wildlife corridor.
Landscaping and greenery also need to be enhanced within Digbeth. Whilst greenery in a formal sense has not been a feature of Digbeth’s industrial landscape, the nature of the area is changing to one of a more mixed community incorporating living, working and leisure uses intermingled with historic industrial uses. Therefore we feel the area should see an increase in greenery to help enhance this mixed modern urban area. There is some scope outside of the conservation area to carry out more formal planting, such as tree lining of High Street, Bradford Street and others. Meanwhile inside the conservation area and within the more small scale grain formal planting may be inappropriate, but greenery can still be integrated. Part of Digbeth’s history is that of elements of dereliction, where plants spring up in opportunistic fashion on empty sites and on neglected railway viaducts. This guerilla style landscape could inform how to introduce more greenery into the area. In addition to the already mentioned use of the disused viaduct spur as a high level park, small pockets of greenery could be introduced in courtyards, or redundant patches of land, or on green and brown roofs.
As well as this derelict sites or those awaiting development could be temporarily landscaped by placing trees and whole landscapes in builders ‘hippo sacks’ together to form a jigsaw landscape that is simply craned in from the backs of trucks, and could therefore be picked up and moved to another site when redevelopment takes place. Equally the ‘hippo sacks’ could also be used to contain allotment planting for the use of local residents (there is a recognised shortage of allotments in the city centre Ladywood ward according to the city council), and again could be moved around when necessary. The issue of contaminated land would also be solved, as the ‘hippo sacks’ would keep any planting separate from any ground contamination.
Overall we feel that Digbeth should continue in its gradual evolution, rather than being subject to large scale demolition and rebuild. Professor Michael Parkinson’s report best illustrates this, and it is in this manner that Digbeth should move. It should continue to be a place where independent, unusual, innovative, and niche businesses and activities can grow and flourish. Digbeth has a very vibrant, imaginative, enthusiastic and involved community and we feel it is necessary to continue involvement with them to help Digbeth evolve.