I showed 40 architecture students around Digbeth on Monday and was surprised to hear that they had never heard of Birmingham’s concrete collar. This either shows my age or how quickly we forget things from our collective memory. I explained that it was the nickname for the old inner ring road; how its size and location were a physical and psychological barrier to people who wanted to come to Digbeth; and how its impact on Birmingham’s development was so great that it was removed in 2002. 12 years later, it feels like we are about to commit the same mistake with the High Speed Two station.
The station proposed by HS2 is monolithic and not too dissimilar in form from an out of town Tesco’s. It is in stark contrast to the organic curves put forward by Birmingham City Council’s Curzon Street Masterplan and its affectionately named ‘shingled slug’. The Shed feels impenetrable, forgetting to compensate for closing Park St and Fazeley St, by squeezing visitors to Digbeth through Paternoster Row. On the other hand, BCC have ensured that the Slug is a gateway to Digbeth with its open gentle steps and enticing public space.
BCC has recognised the importance of access to Digbeth’s creative and social enterprise quarter and the economic regeneration it will bring. HS2 on the other hand is on an extreme cost cutting exercise and have made it clear in talks that they are here to build a station, not to solve Digbeth’s problems. My argument with this is fourfold:
The Shed in its current forms exacerbates Digbeth’s access problem;
The whole point of HS2 is to bring economic benefits to the North;
The Curzon St masterplan is being conservative in its design of Paternoster Place. More could be done to open up the triangle between the Moor St viaduct and the HS2 station.
If we can spend £billions tunnelling under the Chilterns then why can’t we spend an extra few £million creating a proper gateway to Birmingham.
This is why I’ll be signing up to the Curzon St masterplan and petitioning HS2 as it goes through parliament. I implore the rest of Digbeth to do the same. We need to make sure that we don’t rebuild the concrete collar.
Wikipedia article on the Concrete Collar – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masshouse
Maps and illustrations of HS2 station from HS2 Ltd: http://assets.dft.gov.uk/hs2-environmental-statement/volume-2/MB26_VOL2_CFA26_WATERMARKED.pdf