The Birmingham Transport Plan 2031, published on 13 January 2020, caused something of a public stir amongst locals. A BBC article detailing the Plan shot to number 2 in the BBC’s “most read” category and (at the time of writing) had harboured over 1000 comments from readers, the vast majority of whom seemed to be less than pleased at the ideas championed by the policy.
According to the Birmingham City Council’s website, the policy’s aims are to:
- Reduce transport’s damaging impact on the environment, supporting Birmingham’s commitment to becoming a carbon neutral city by 2030
- Eliminate road danger particularly in residential areas
- Connect people with new job and training opportunities
- Reconnect communities by prioritising people over cars
- Revitalise the city centre and local centres
The Council seeks to implement this through a series of “Big Moves”, which include limiting access to the city centre for private cars, re-routing the A38 to an upgraded ring road, and closing down Council owned city centre car parks to make way for new residential units.
But for many of those commenting on the BBC’s article – entitled “Birmingham cars could be banned from driving through city centre” – and for those of us travelling to and working in the City centre and beyond, the policy raised more than a few concerns.
For me, a commuter on (what should be) a 25 minute journey from south Birmingham, the question I automatically asked myself is – how on earth are more people supposed to fit on the already creaking public transport? With trains and trams current unreliable and overcrowded, it doesn’t seem feasible that taking drivers off of the central Birmingham roads and putting them on trains or trams is a particularly good idea. (Raise your hand now if the thought of an even sweatier train journey with another rucksack in your face and someone’s brolly sticking in your rib is bringing you out in hives).
Consider also the impact on real estate, at a time when Birmingham’s skyline looks almost War of the Worlds-esque, so dense is the population of cranes sitting above the rooftops. Residential, commercial and mixed-use developments come to market on a daily basis, with big names such as PWC, HSBC, Barclays, BT and several education and health providers taking up tenancies and bringing tens of thousands of employees with them. For a lot of those employees, inner city living is key. How will the transport plans affect their residential experience?
And finally from a retail perspective, could this be a deadly nail in the Brummie coffin? In an already concerning retail environment, if shoppers are to be expected to rely solely on public transport to reach the city centre going forward, it’s easy to see how the online option could be a less stressful solution.
There is no doubt whatsoever that something must be done on a global but importantly a local scale to counteract decades of polluting, and I salute the Council’s continuous efforts to make Birmingham a carbon neutral zone. These policies come at a time when you can step outside of a city centre office to get some “fresh air” and come back with an exhaust-fume induced headache. Over 900 early adult deaths in Birmingham every year are linked to poor air quality. This is not something we should be taking lightly, or moaning about just because it’s change to what we know. But I am doubtful of the city’s ability to integrate these policies without pinch points arising elsewhere on the roads and on public transport – and possibly also without damaging effects on levels of demand for city centre residential and commercial units.
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