Retailers in what was once Birmingham’s main shopping thoroughfare say plans to extend the Midland Metro could prove the final nail in the coffin for them as they struggle to stay afloat.
They claim Corporation Street, which once boasted several department stores and was the heart of the city centre at the turn of the 20th century, is already on its way to becoming a retailing no man’s land thanks to the opening of the Bullring shopping centre and the pedestrianisation of New Street.
Now they believe the three-year project to extend the Midland Metro between Snow Hill and New Street stations, which will see trams to run down Corporation Street, will seriously damage what is left of trade.
The £127 million joint venture between Centro, Birmingham City Council and several Black Country councils will see Corporation Street permanently closed to traffic and bus stops moved to new locations.
“It poses a threat to anybody’s survival in Corporation Street,” said David Johnson, managing director of Rex Johnson and Sons jewellers on Corporation Street. “Twelve years ago at an exhibition I said if the metro comes down here I’m putting my claim for compensation in because it will devastate Corporation Street.
“Retail Birmingham thinks this is all going to go to plan and we are not going to have any disturbance to our normal day but I’ve been in retailing for 40 years and I can tell you the public doesn’t like shopping on a working site. The traffic stops within the next couple of months and then we will find out.”
The current project is the first phase in the construction of the Midland Metro extension and will run from Snow Hill Station to New Street Station.
The extension will link Birmingham’s two main stations to the Jewellery Quarter and the Black Country, with trams following a route from the existing metro terminus at Snow Hill across a specially built viaduct along Bull Street, Corporation Street and Stephenson Street.
It will serve as a platform for further routes to key locations such as Birmingham Airport and the new HS2 station.
Mr Johnson called for “real help” for retailers, who he feels will lose out financially, rather than just reassurance.
He said Retail Birmingham needed to “earn its money” and retailers would be “struggling like mad” to stay in existence for three years and wants compensation on rent and rates for shopkeepers.
He added: “I am sure that when it is completed it is going to be very nice but the public will be shopping somewhere else for three years – do they come back when it’s up and running? I don’t know and also who is going to survive for three years?
Mr Johnson said stores like his were still reeling from the impact of Bullring’s opening, adding it had “changed footflow in Birmingham”.
“I’d say we have half the footflow and rents didn’t come down,” he added.
“Shoppers are very fickle – once they have moved on they don’t come back.”
Although Mr Johnson said he was optimistic about the eventual outcome if retailers are able to survive, another Corporation Street jeweller was less convinced about the long-term benefits.
Daniel Johnson, managing director of Roberts Jewellers, said: “It is not even going to help us when it’s finished.