Digbeth, Aston Science Park and Eastside to lead digital Birmingham
The area spanning Digbeth, Aston Science Park and Eastside is set to become Birmingham’s new “digital district” under new council plans to install next-generation high speed broadband.
Speaking at the regional launch of Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report, Coun Paul Tilsley, chair of the Digital Birmingham partnership, announced plans to create an area which would act as a “as a showcase and business demonstrator to attract new businesses and inward investment and offer a strategy for economic recovery.”
He said: “I am pleased to announce that Birmingham will create a ‘Digital District’ that brings together the innovative, learning and creative sectors enabled through a next generation high speed broadband infrastructure.
“It will provide a digital infrastructure that captures the ambitions of the Digital Britain Report, where the creative and digital media sectors and knowledge-intensive businesses are able to exploit the potential that high bandwidth conveys through the creation of new and exciting media content and job opportunities.”
The initiative, part of the council’s Big City Plan, revolves around plans to install fibre optic technology which would enable internet speeds of over 100 megabits per second in the area.
The plan was welcomed by Aston Science Park, which is home to companies across a range of technology-based sectors such as pharmaceuticals, IT services and photonics.
Dr David Hardman, managing director at Aston Science Park, said: “Placing Aston Science Park at the forefront of the digital district is key to the success of our new innovation support strategy which focuses on the low-carbon economy, ICT and digital media sectors.”
But the announcement received a more cautious welcome in Digbeth, where venues such as the Custard Factory, Fazeley Studios and The Bond are home to numerous small firms operating in the creative industries, many of them directly involved in the digital sector.
Andy Hartwell, managing director of Fazeley Studios-based digital design agency Substrakt, welcomed the recognition that Digbeth and the surrounding areas were at the heart of the city’s digital economy.
He said: “The good thing about working at Fazeley Studios is that it really promotes co-working and working with like-minded companies so any efficiency that can be increased by using these high speed networks to transfer data is good.”
But he was more cautious on the subject of whether the announcement could tempt businesses to come to the area purely because of its digital appeal.
“What would really help if Digbeth was promoted as a digital district in order to try to bring work up from London,” he said.
Julia Higginbottom, of multiplatform production and post-production firm Aquila, which is based on Broad Street, said the introduction of super-fast broadband would not be enough to tempt her to move the company to the new “digital district,” particularly the Digbeth area.
She said: “It’s not enough on its own because there are other issues with the area such as parking.
“We would have to see major investment in other infrastructure in Digbeth to consider moving. For instance you can’t buy anything in Digbeth and there is no cash point.”