TV’s most high profile property expert has claimed Birmingham could catch up with more celebrated European cities if ambitious plans to transform Paradise Circus are pulled off.
Broadcaster Kevin McCloud, who has hosted Channel 4’s Grand Designs for a decade, said if the city centre redevelopment works it could stand alongside other European cities like Dresden, which was rebuilt to its former glory after the war – but if it doesn’t it will be just another “place of windy concrete”.
Mr McCloud himself has worked “quite a lot” with architect Glenn Howells, who, along with developer Argent, have designed the masterplan for the Paradise Circus redesign.
The partners plan to create a series of new traffic-free streets and squares on the area around the current Central Library building while a broad mix of buildings are planned by various other architects.
“One of the most significant things about the Paradise scheme is that it puts pedestrians before traffic,” Mr McCloud said.
“People don’t like having to go through underpasses, people like to walk in straight lines.
“It will be interesting to see how it links with buildings beyond it.
“I really welcome the Paradise Circus initiative. It creates public realm, a space for people to enjoy, a pedestrian landscape which can be accessed and lived with in much greater liberty.
“Hansom’s Town Hall is the most wonderful temple.
“Being able to tie those buildings together, if it works out it, is going to be a place of public realm on a par with European cities like Dresden.
“If it doesn’t it’s going to be another place of windy and draughty concrete.”
Mr McCloud described Birmingham’s city centre layout as “pretty dysfunctional” and that cracking the so-called concrete collar of the ring road was key to its redesign.
“The old library, which is not a loved building, was never given the setting it wanted,” he said.
“There are lots of separate areas and the difficulty is cracking that 1960s road layout, that’s the great challenge. I don’t like the way the road system carves up the city.
“The problems with the great traffic improvements of the 60s is that you end up ripping chapters out of the narrative for a place.
“From the 60s to the 80s, you had the rust belt of Birmingham, the industry closures, and now it is finding a new 21st century identity.”
The designer and author, who lives in the West Country, praised the area around Selfridges and St Martin’s in Birmingham, describing it as “a good piece of public realm”.