The loss of Eastside Park (above) to HS2 , ‘more of a square than a park’, strengthens the case for greening Smithfield. Photograph: John Newson. 

John Newson points out that Birmingham Friends of the Earth earlier responded to the council’s 2011 Big City Plan, proposing that the open space on the Smithfield site should have should have functions of stalls/market space which could be combined with trees and some green space. He comments: “A park, in the sense of extensive grass and flower beds may not be achievable, given the intensity of pedestrian footfall, which is likely, and indeed desirable.  Eastside Park is more of a square than a park”.

The CityPark4Brum  2015 petition was followed by the council’s Smithfield Master plan (March 2016)  which may be downloaded here, with the August ’17 memorandum. There was a new consultation which included a proposal for a new park on one part of the site.

The petition, masterminded by James Tucker, now has over 5000 signatures and will be resubmitted to the council and the metro mayor. As he points out, “Birmingham does not have a large park in its city centre – a glaring omission for the UK’s second city. However, we currently have a unique opportunity to address this . . . Birmingham Smithfield is less than 5 minutes’ walk from New Street station and the Bullring, an ideal location for a green park that could truly transform our city’s landscape”.

He feels that the space allocated for this new park is too small – smaller than the Cathedral Green and  wedged in between other buildings adding: “ Therefore the CityPark4Brum campaign is continuing and is now into its third year”.

The artist’s impression

Though one correspondent concedes, “Green space is always nice” he continues: “it might well become repositories for litter and poorly disposed of dog poo bags. Probably best if fenced off and excluding humans”.

Steve Beauchampé expresses no such misgivings, writing firmly in the Birmingham Press: “Birmingham needs a city centre park, not the thin strip of tree-lined greensward offered in the Smithfield development”.

He found Birmingham City Council’s vision of a future mixed use of retail, residential, offices, eateries, a brace of public squares and some undefined cultural activities, ”all very predictable” and had replied by posting on the Press website that they should abandon the masterplan and simply lay out a park, one where you could walk a dog, kick a ball around, sit on a bench, enjoy an ice cream in a tearoom.

The CityPark4Brum has had some influence, with BCC agreeing to incorporate a grass and tree-lined corridor (linear park, illustrated below) into their revised masterplan although Beauchampé notes that the total amount of greenery promised still appears to be very modest – ‘a truncated boulevard’. He continues:

“Apart from the grounds of St Philip’s Cathedral, and St Paul’s on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter, there is almost no usable green space in or near Birmingham city centre. Taken as a whole Birmingham probably has more parks than Venice has canals, but the central core and its immediate surrounds – where the population is rapidly increasing (and will continue so to do) – remains bereft of anything resembling a park.

“One need look no further than Birmingham’s geographical neighbours to realise how notable Birmingham’s lack of a gloriously unstructured and unregulated, egalitarian central zone park is: Coventry, (War Memorial Park) Solihull (Tudor Grange, Brueton and Malvern Parks), Walsall (Arboretum), West Bromwich (Dartmouth Park) and Wolverhampton (West Park) all boast large parks on the periphery of their centres, easily walkable from their respective retail and civic hearts”.

Warning that in a year or two there may simply be no parcels of land available on which to develop a central park, he foresees future generations looking at:

  • a plethora of apartments that they will not be able to afford to rent,
  • hotels that they will never need to stay in
  • offices that they will probably never be needed to work in
  • and nowhere to walk their dogs, kick their footballs
  • or relax with their friends.

Beauchampé points out that national and even international perceptions still imagine Birmingham as the motor city, an unattractive urban sprawl, full of underpasses, flyovers and rain-soaked concrete, concluding:

“A well-designed city park or green space would change perceptions of Birmingham in a way that 25-30 additional 25-30-storey high new buildings never could . . . potentially as ‘impactful’ on the city as staging the Commonwealth Games or the arrival of HS2: a gift that truly would keep on giving, day after day, decade after decade. A place for relaxation, exercise, for cultural and communal experiences, where the city can celebrate and commemorate and which can be enjoyed without cost by rich and poor, young and old.”

 

 

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