On Tuesday evening I went to the Big City Plan consultation event for Digbeth and Highgate at the Paragon Hotel. It started with a talk from Philip Singleton about the Big City Plan, after which we all broke into groups to brainstorm the areas. Of course I ended up in the Digbeth group, here’s the conclusions they came to:
The main fear of redevelopment in the area is that it will destroy or dilute what’s so great about it. Digbeth has a unique character that needs to be preserved and allowed to grow rather than developed out, so it becomes an identikit area you could get in any city. Any plans for the area need to be wary of this.
John Tighe of the Spotted Dog and Kent Davis of The Rainbow drew attention to the serious problems they are facing after a mere handful of noise complaints to Environmental Health. There main issues are:
- There needs to be quality control of private as well as social housing developments, to ensure developers do the necessary noise checks before building and install adequate noise insulation. This would prevent a repetition of the problems faced by the those living in the Abacus building, where the noise insulation is particularly poor.
- Environmental Health need to work with local businesses like The Rainbow rather than their current, heavy-handed approach. Penalising the venues that make this area great to the point of threatening their business is counter-productve for the area.
- Look at the majority opinion as well as individual complaints – The Rainbow and The Spotted Dog have received a handful of noise complaints between them despite the large number of local residents. Most of the people here love these venues and want them to remain. Yet one individual complaint seems to set Environmental Health into attack mode, costing the venues thousands of pounds that they don’t have.
Support local groups
There are a great many local groups which need support and communication during consultations such as this – the Residents’ Association, Pubwatch and the local business association. Most of the people around the table, despite being a member of at least one of these groups, felt they had found out about the consultation event by accident. Poor communication with key local groups during a consultation like this just breeds cynicism that ‘decisions have already been made’, which helps no-one. So keep in contact and don’t miss the bus.
Horrible High Street
The Digbeth High Street is a truly awful introduction to Digbeth which gives no clue to the hidden gems like the Custard Factory further down. No-one would look down the High Street from the back of Selfridges and think, ‘Mmmmm….there looks nice. I’ll take a wander.’ This is bad for the businesses on and just off the High Street as it means not a lot of passing trade, just customers who’ve sought them out.
The other main route through Digbeth, Bradford Street, also leaves a lot to be desired. Section 106 money has been set aside to spruce this up and work was meant to start last year, but so far no work has been done.
Although it was stressed the options for each area in the Big City Plan aren’t mutually exclusive, people felt the need to stress they did not just want one theme for the area. Digbeth is made up of a glorious mix of industral and creative businesses, homes, pubs and live music venues. This melting pot needs to be preserved.
The following evening, Creative Republic held a similar Big City Plan consultation event for creative types. Here’s some recent linkage from that and the interwebs in general:
- Big City Philosophy - ‘But by far the best idea, I thought, came from John Mostyn (or at least his team) that the Big City Plan needs a philosophy that we can then act upon. One of the problems Birmingham has had in its regeneration is a lack of cohesion and common thread between the seperate areas of regeneration as well as a lack of sympathy with the culture of independent marketers and establishments.’
- No more “rubbish” flats – is what the Birmingham Mail think we want. That and better transport and roads between areas and a visual arts centre.
- Wholesale Changes? – the central Wholesale Markets are set to move to The Hub, Witton. As Jon Bounds says, ‘it’ll be a fair trek across town for fruiteers, florists and fishmongers currently making the short hop across Upper Dean Street. It’s a long way to push trollies, spilling cabbages as you go.’