Friday, 5 November 2010

Dream scheme Longbridge?

Confused by the big roadworks scheme on Bristol Road South A38 at Longbridge ? Birmingham City Council planning application explains all. Documents in 2008/02787/PA explain how the vision of a new Longbridge, a process in which public involvement was invited, is translated into bulldozers on the ground.

One drawing in the pack, ‘Proposed Highway Works Phasing’, helpfully explains the land ownership serving the Longbridge site. Serving the site, or cutting through it, is a railway formation that from Longbridge Station to Bristol Road South is owned by English, Welsh, and Scottish Railway (owner of a fleet of freight trains). The railway, that would in some cases be seen as an asset, is part of the Longbridge to Frankley railway. The potential railway sits alongside the construction training college as assets earmarked for removal.

The gain from the pain is planned to be a better road alignment; a smooth curve with traffic signals at the junction rather than the current roundabout that has sent many a visiting motorist towards Lickey Hills rather than the M5. The planned new junction sets up the start of the Longbridge to M42 route (a route that has failed to gain approval) and firmly places the Longbridge Vision as one where continuing and expanding road transport is a given.

The scheme, in its enthusiasm, bypasses itself by having a new two-ended road to and from Bristol Road South; one end lies opposite the much widened Longbridge Lane.

Developer of the site, St Modwen, are going through a stormy time with Birmingham City Council. In May, City Planning Committee chairman, Councillor Peter Douglas Osborn, accused St Modwen of behaving in a cavalier fashion when trying to force through the ‘Longbridge Tombway’, an underground access to the proposed shopping centre. The Tombway was described by city planners as off-putting to pedestrians. Stung by criticism St Modwen grudgingly dropped the idea (Birmingham Post May 20th).

Ripping on with the project in a changed economic environment might raise the hackles of the Taxpayers Alliance. From the money spent, there might be a good outcome in the fantasy tarmac league, but a physical asset that is worthless or even a liability. The Longbridge site, given breathing space, might be devalued by having a road across it whereas it might otherwise be a new manufacturing site or a new home for Pinewood Studios.

To top and tail the sorry story, the developer had been expected to pay some of the infrastructure costs (a £35m contribution) but opted out (Property Week, 31 March 2009). The public foots the bill.

This then is the reality of Birmingham: an authority laying off staff and struggling for money, relentlessly pushing ahead with a project that may well be obsolete. The elected and employed people making up Birmingham City Council have a great deal of talent and that is needed now – Longbridge needs a rethink.

John Hall

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