The plans include 940 apartments, 65,000 sq foot of commercial space and a public promenade bordering the newly-revealed River Rea. The huge site features a signature 18-floor tower on the northern corner (closest to the coach station), while preserving the listed The White Swan pub at the opposite corner.
Developers Seven Capital have been working with Digbeth-based K4 Architects on the project, and as well as delivering a hefty return on investment for them, it is hoped Connaught Square will also help with providing employment opportunities alongside affordable housing for the wider Birmingham population.
Without a doubt, the most appealing part of the development for me is bringing the hidden River Rea back into the light, to offer a riverside public walkway, including shops, restaurants and bars. This element of Connaught Square really sets it apart from other developments in Digbeth, in terms of offering meaningful public spaces in Digbeth – we currently don’t have any nice outdoor space where you can sit and have a chat with a friend.
Chair of Digbeth Residents Association John Gordon echoes this point of view: “We strongly believe that the River Rea is central to the success of the development, and that the river should be visible with clear, accessible entrances celebrating the river on which Birmingham began to grow.”
Another positive of the development is the focus on cycling, walking and public transport, which is something myself and other members of Digbeth Residents Association noticed when meeting Seven Capital and K4 in February this year. The plans recognise how close we are to Birmingham city centre, and that there simply isn’t the need to create 940 parking spaces to go alongside (or underneath) the development.
One of our other comments, which was echoed by Birmingham City Council planners, was the need to create a range of affordable homes with a healthy mix of one-bedroom flats and larger family apartments, in a style that helps promote neighbourliness, along with stability.
Seven Capital plan to offer a concierge for additional security, and delivery points for those all-important internet shopping deliveries – both really will help with attracting families in my opinion. They have also made provisions for commercial uses such as dentists and doctors surgeries, as well as family-friendly private outdoor space for residents, which again are all necessities for families.
Some developments in Digbeth are skewed towards offering cramped studio and one-bedroom apartments – this benefits no one but the developers, who can then squeeze profit from every square inch of land, while doing nothing to promote a sustainable and long-term community.
We recognise that it is difficult to ensure that the “affordable” homes are actually sold to local families (and not faceless private landlords wanting to boost their portfolios), but did ask for some sort of quotas to be implemented.
The only part of the plan that concerns me at the moment is the height of the development. Looking at the aerial view picture, Connaught Square is visibly much taller than its neighbours. Part of Birmingham’s Big City Plan was to ensure that developments are sympathetic to their surroundings, limiting super-tall buildings to the city core itself.
Although the site is not limited by a previous building – a lot of plots in Digbeth would need to conserve the existing structures into new plans – that doesn’t mean that Connaught Square should be as tall as 18 floors, especially since most of the surrounding buildings are six floors at most.
I’m hopeful that Seven Capital have purposely submitted plans that are taller than they actually want/need to make the development profitable, and will be willing to compromise downwards in terms of height. At the moment, that remains to been seen, but we will of course keep you up to date with developments.
If you would like to learn more, make a date in your diary for Tuesday 15 November, when representatives from K4 Architects and Seven Capital will present their plans at the Digbeth Residents Association meeting.