As you’ve all probably heard, New Street Station ‘Gateway’ project recently received long awaited funding from central government, paving the way for a much needed revamp of the station.          

Whilst this is good news for rail travel in Birmingham and the West Midlands, meaning more sustainable travel, we here at Birmingham Friends of the Earth thought that the new New Street Station should also be a beacon of sustainablity too.  That’s why as part of our ongoing planning campaign work we responded to the planning application for the redesign.

If you’ve not managed to seek a peek at the plans for New Street Station, then we can tell you it’s pretty ambitious, with a massive expansion of the station concourse to provide much needed extra passenger capacity, a new glazed atrium which requires the cutting of a void through the Pallasades shopping centre above, a complete refurbishment of the shopping centre, and the building of two new high rise tower blocks, as well some associated works to help integrate the station better into the surrounding area.  All told it’s going to cost around £500 million.
Anyway, last year the application was approved, and as part of the conditions (these are items that must be included within the finished building) for the approval, we were pleased to see some of our sustainability suggestions incorporated.
Firstly, Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (that’s SUDS for short), which help manage storm and surface water that runs off surfaces, preventing flooding and the overloading of sewers.  With climate change set to cause more freak heavy storms this is good news for the local and wider area.

Systems for harvesting rainwater and grey water from the buildings will need to be included, which will be filtered and reused within the development for non drinking water purposes, such as toilet flushing.  This will help save drinking water and the energy associated with purifying it, as well as helping to reduce flooding, as this is a form of SUDS (see previous).

Green roofs provision was included, which provide a multitude of environmental benefits, such as; soaking up storm water (yes, you guessed it, another form of SUDS), soaking up air pollution (in particular sooty particulates) which makes for cleaner air in the city, absorbing carbon dioxide though the plants that make up the roof, and providing a valuable city centre wildlife habitat, in particular for birds.

Energy use should also be reduced by a requirement to build the office and residential accommodation to higher levels of energy efficiency than standard, with the apartments needing to achieve EcoHomes ‘Good’ rating and the offices BREEAM ‘Good’ rating (EcoHomes & BREEAM are central government rating schemes for sustainable buildings).  However, we were a little disappointed that these targets weren’t more ambitious by striving for a ‘Very Good’ or ‘Excellent’ rating, but there’s still time for the developers to aim for higher even if the council won’t.
It’s also good news that recycling provision for both the residential and commercial developments is to be included, facilities that Birmingham Friends of the Earth has been campaigning for for many years.

Cycling also featured in the conditions, with a commitment to cycle storage provision for rail passengers and employees, as well as a good provision for the apartment and office blocks, the latter is also to feature showers and changing facilities for cyclists, which we’re sure will be welcomed.

In addition, a ‘Travelwise’ plan is also required for the finished development which should help get employees in the buildings walking, cycling and using public transport to get them to work.  Before the building is complete however, a ‘construction travel plan’ is also required, which should also help minimise congestion and pollution from construction traffic during the works.

And finally, a combined heat and power (CHP) plant is also set to make an appearance.  A CHP is a kind of mini power station generating electricity for the buildings on site, the waste heat from this process is then utilised to heat both the buildings themselves and provide hot water.  Because of this dual role CHPs are over twice as efficient as your average conventional power station and therefore reduce carbon dioxide emissions considerably.  If large enough this CHP could also potentially provide heat to a district heating system, which would heat surrounding buildings also, much like the recently installed Broad Street CHP.

So, whilst we would have liked to see higher energy efficiency standards, a commitment to the use of local labour and materials, and a proportion of space available for independent shops and businesses, the outcome of the planning response has been pretty good.  So, with funding now in place and work to begin in the near future, lets hope the new New Street Station is both a gateway to the city and a gateway to a sustainable future.