This is a proposal by architect and urban designer Joe Holyoak, intended to resolve the current uncertainty about the future of the wholesale markets.

At present there are three possible scenarios under discussion.

1.  The markets move away from the city centre to a brownfield site further away, and the present site is comprehensively redeveloped with new mixed uses.

2.  The markets stay as and where they are.

3.  The markets disappear altogether.

All of these alternatives are unacceptable, for different reasons. This new alternative proposes that the present site is comprehensively redeveloped, creating a new expansion of the city centre, but including the wholesale markets in a new form. This can be done in such a way as to meet the objectives of the Big City Plan.

Before the 1970s building of the present wholesale markets, wholesale market functions were integrated into a pattern of streets and blocks, mixed with other land uses such as factories, housing, pubs and shops – a mixed-use urban quarter (drawing 1).

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The perception in the 1970s was clearly that wholesale markets were incompatible with other urban land uses. Fourteen street blocks, in whole or in part, were demolished, and new wholesale markets were built, isolated from the rest of the city inside a stockade wall, covering about eight hectares of land (drawing 2).

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This new alternative proposes a return to the mixed-use urban quarter, expressed in modern terms. In order to provide land for non-market uses, both for economic viability and for sustainable occupation, the footprint of the wholesale markets has to be reduced. This is done by replacing the present horizontal sprawl with vertical layering. The slope of the land, on the hillside down to the Rea, enables all delivery vehicles to drive into a basement area, with a new entirely-pedestrian public realm above. Appropriately, vehicles enter the basement (drawing 4) via the tree-lined extension of Cheapside.

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In approximate terms, the present wholesale market buildings provide about 29,000 square metres of ground level floor space. This proposal provides 26,000 square metres of floor space, but on two levels. Special goods lifts will connect these floors to the external ground level and to the delivery basement, enabling efficient movement of food. The cross-section (drawing 5) shows that there are shops and restaurants at the pedestrian ground level, above the delivery area. On top of the shops and restaurants are the two 6m high markets floors, and on top of them are three floors of apartments.

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The proposed redevelopment is structured on a street plan very similar to that which existed before the 1970s. Bromsgrove Street and Sherlock Street are extended into the site, to meet at a new museum of modern art next to Digbeth. Roughly perpendicular to these, Cheapside and Moseley Street are also extended, to form a grid of streets forming ten street blocks, returning connectivity and permeability to the quarter. The wholesale markets occupy three of these blocks (drawing 3).

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It is necessary to ensure continuity of operation between the old and the new wholesale markets during development. This will inevitably create difficulties. Drawing 6 shows those parts of the existing markets buildings which can remain in use, if the three new wholesale markets blocks form the first phase of the new redevelopment.

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As proposed in the Big City Plan, the new redevelopment includes a large new public square, on the site of the mediaeval moated manor house, named Moat Square. This sits on top of the basement delivery area. With the closure of Dean Street to vehicles, Moat Square enables the outdoor retail market to extend further south into the square. The existing retail market is reordered, and is covered by a translucent canopy (drawing 7).

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