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Posts Tagged ‘Birmingham

When gumption is lacking

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Birmingham Mail, letters, page 26, 15 Jan 2015

Birmingham Mail, letters, page 26, 15 Jan 2015

Local public transport information office at Birmingham New Street station, 15 March 2015

Local public transport information office at Birmingham New Street station, 15 March 2015

Do not criticise Centro

Written by beleben

March 16, 2015 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Centro

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Spin laden

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In Greater Manchester, municipal incompetence has resulted in the county Waste Disposal Authority paying double the market rate to dispose of residual waste. And several years ago, Birmingham’s local authority locked itself into a nonsensical Capita-led information technology venture.

Now, Birmingham’s waste management service is being reorganised. Harborne and Brandwood districts will ‘pilot’ the use of wheelie bins, with “black bags and recycling boxes replaced with up to three bins per household”, the Birmingham Mail reported. What could possibly go wrong?

Harborne councillor and city hauptbinmeister James McKay said,

“The pilot will help us refine and shape the plan to roll out wheelie bins across Birmingham, delivering a better deal for taxpayers, along with cleaner streets as bags will no longer get ripped open by vermin.

“The current system of black bags and small recycling boxes is costing us money we can no longer afford.

“Recycling rates have flat-lined, so the city is left picking up a huge bill for disposing of waste and paying landfill taxes.

No information has been made available about how the wheelie bin scheme could improve efficiency or significantly reduce costs. Although described as a system to ‘replace black bags’, the council Q&A would seem to suggest otherwise.

Q. Who is responsible for keeping the bins clean?

A. The experience of other local authorities who have implemented this type of collection methodology is that residents place bagged waste into the wheeled bins, and therefore there is minimal ongoing need to clean. If cleaning is required then it is the resident’s responsibility to undertake this.

The combination of a task and finish work system with multiple wheeled receptacles is likely to result in large numbers of bins getting damaged. If the council attempt to pin the costs of bin damage by rough handling on residents, that would probably end up with householders filming the binmen on each and every round.

The lack of transparency and consultation in Birmingham’s waste management reorganisation process is troubling, and likely to result in unfortunate outcomes.

Written by beleben

February 7, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Pedestrian orientation in central Birmingham

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Centro map: 'Walking between Birmingham City Centre stations'Birmingham city centre is a difficult place to navigate at the best of times, but as of April 2012, there is more disruption than (what passes for) normal, caused by extension works for the Midland Metro tramway, and ‘relooking’ of New Street station (Birmingham Gateway).

Centro and the city council have stated that they intend to improve wayfinding in the centre, with better signage and information. But judging by Centro’s cack-handed fold-out leaflet, ‘Walking between Birmingham City Centre stations’, they have a long way to go. The leaflets appear to have only achieved distribution in early 2012, but it’s not clear how old they are, as there is no clear publication date on display.

Centro map of central Birmingham

Centro - getting between Birmingham stations mapOn one side of the leaflet, there is a general map of the city centre, covering streets as far north as St Paul’s Square. However, the ‘second entrance’ to Snow Hill station — to the north of Great Charles Street — is not featured, although it has been open for a year.

On the other side of the leaflet, there is a map with recommended routes between the three main railway stations (New Street, Moor Street, and Snow Hill). As can be seen, the map is a lot smaller than it could have been, as a lot of space is wasted. Furthermore, details on the map are confusing, and it mislocates or misrepresents features such as the St Martin’s Queensway tunnel, and St Philip’s cathedral.

On the map, the recommended route between Moor Street and Snow Hill involves the Great Western Arcade — which is usually closed outside shop hours — but that is not explained.

By walking across St Philip’s churchyard, many pedestrians could equal a future ‘six-minute’ Midland Metro tram journey between Snow Hill and Stephenson Street, but the map does not show the path. The main entrance to Moor Street station — on the corner of Moor Street Queensway and Moor Street — is also not shown.

Birmingham city centre rail stations (Centro map)

The map does not show the council’s tourist information office in New Street, nor the Centro travel enquiry office in New Street station. But it does indicate the location of ‘information points’, without explaining what they are (namely: electronic display panels, or boards displaying printed timetables and suchlike).

Written by beleben

April 7, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Tainted silver

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On 27 February, I wrote about Argent’s cynical proposals for the redevelopment of Paradise Circus in central Birmingham. On March 22, the Birmingham Post reported that when members of the city council’s Conservation and Heritage Panel were given details of the scheme, they declared it “appalling” and “dreadful”.

George Demidowicz, from the Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society, said

“I despair, I cannot understand this one at all. It’s a collection of buildings all massing up behind the Town Hall in the most appalling manner,” he said. “This is massing up to create as much commercial space as possible – it is a dreadful scheme.”

Andy Foster, from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, said

“These new buildings are going to be a sheer mass of volumes. This is an extremely poor plan.

“It is poor, uninspired, over-massed and over-bearing and has been driven by the political will to get rid of the Central Library.”

The Paradise Circus site

Laughably, Rob Groves, project director at Argent, claimed that “the driving force behind the proposals was a desire to open up vistas to and from the historic civic buildings”, transforming the area into a “more open and usable space with buildings that Birmingham can be proud of”.

There is a very strong case for creating open and usable space, and opening up vistas, but Argent’s scheme cannot deliver these. Distinctive buildings have value, and the Madin library‘s outward appearance is way superior to Argent’s generic boxes. It would be better to remodel the Central Library building for other uses, rather than make the city an international laughing stock. It should be possible to repurpose the Madin library, with improved access to its upper floors (by building a new staircase and lifts within the central court of the ziggurat).

Copthorne Hotel building

There is also a reasonable case for retaining Adrian Boult Hall, but the city would certainly be better off without the Copthorne Hotel and its ‘twin‘, used as offices by Birmingham council. Remodelling of the Paradise Circus area would need to address the poor pedestrian links and sightlines between Centenary Square and the council house, and that would entail significant changes to the road network.

Written by beleben

March 26, 2012 at 8:30 pm

London Birmingham Airport

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Andrew McNaughton suggests "London Birmingham Airport" and periurban sprawlAs I’ve said before, HS2 is all about London. So it’s no surprise to read that chief engineer of HS2 Ltd, Andrew McNaughton, has suggested that high speed rail would allow Birmingham Airport to rename itself “London-Birmingham”, because it would be ‘closer to central London, in journey time, than either Stansted or Gatwick’.

What was a little surprising was the lack of enthusiasm for renaming from John Morris, the Airport’s head of government and industry affairs, who said:

Why on earth would we do that?

Because Mr Morris and his cohorts are continually trying to position Elmdon as London’s third airport, it would seem entirely logical for him to support renaming as Prof McNaughton suggested.

It’s important to emphasise that chief engineer McNaughton is *not* a mad professor, not at all. So perhaps Mr Morris should stop being so stuck-in-the-mud and self-contradictory, and follow Prof McNaughton’s ideas. After all, Prof McNaughton told Centro, Solihull and Birmingham councils where the high speed track and stations would go in their area. And they accepted it without a whimper. So impressed were Birmingham council with the Prof’s ideas, they immediately tore up their entire Eastside redevelopment plan for him.

The Prof’s views seem well aligned with the government’s bonfire of planning regulations. At the Irail 2012 rail conference in Derby, he predicted that:

Birmingham airport and nearby National Exhibition Centre area would become the heart of a new city following the construction of the planned Birmingham Interchange station, which will serve the HS2 line.

So ‘invest in HS2, get periurban sprawl for free’. Or perhaps, not for free.

Written by beleben

March 23, 2012 at 10:34 pm

A better economy for Birmingham

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Birmingham Friends of the Earth 'City of the Future' panel, 20 March 2012

On 20 March, I toddled along to the council house to hear the Birmingham Friends of the Earth City of the Future debate on a ‘better economy’ for Birmingham, which was chaired by Alun Thorne (editor of the Birmingham Post). The well-attended event had four invited speakers:

  • Julia Slay (New Economics Foundation)
  • Oliver Bettis (Centre for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy)
  • Dr Helen Borland (Aston Business School), and
  • David Powell (national FOE economics team).

Each panellist spoke for around five minutes, and there then followed questions from the floor, and from a four-person ‘examining panel’, which included Dr Simon Slater, of Sustainability West Midlands.

CotF panellists

Unlike last year’s high speed rail debate, the CotF speaker panel didn’t really have ‘sides’. All the speakers’ presentations might be described as New Economic in nature, though it was unclear as to how much agreement there was on specific ideas. It’d be fair to say that the language used was well outside of the political mainstream — in Birmingham, the Conservative, Labour, and Liberal Democrat parties all talk the language of “growth”, and the “growth agenda”, although the national economy appears to be in quasi-stagnation.

CoTF panellists

Although billed as being about the economy in Birmingham, the discussion wasn’t particularly Birmingham-specific. It was largely about ideas that might find application in any large community, and some of them seemed to be fairly broad-brush concepts that needed refinement. Ms Slay discussed personal time banking, and Mr Bettis put forward the idea of a local currency running parallel to sterling. Mr Powell berated the leaders of Greater Manchester for allowing a referendum on congestion charging. Dr Borland spoke of the resistance in some university business schools to the notion of teaching sustainability.

Divisions between new and ‘received’ economics cropped up in a question from the floor concerning the extent to which the Birmingham Post covers, or doesn’t cover, sustainability issues. Mr Thorne explained that he wanted to cover these topics, but the Post’s content as a whole needed to be commercially viable. And to be fair to him, the coverage question is one that applies to the wider media. To give an example, in the last ten years, BBC WM has probably devoted hundreds of hours to football phone-ins. But in that period, how many programmes have they had about sustainability, or the economy?

We got to move those refrigerators?

Written by beleben

March 21, 2012 at 3:52 pm

This way to HS2, part two

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During the Bull Ring redevelopment around a decade ago, there was the possibility of transforming the quality of Birmingham city centre. Options included a surface pedestrian boulevard between Moor Street and Smallbrook Queensway, and a capacity enhancement of New Street rail station, by building of a third pair of tracks from the east.

Unfortunately, corporate greed won the day, and as far as transport was concerned, all the good burghers got from the years of disruption was St Martin’s Queensway tunnel (pictured below), and Moor Street bus mall (which was shut down a few weeks after it opened).

St Martin's Queensway tunnel, Birmingham

For many people, the unwelcoming St Martin’s tunnel is the only practical route between Moor Street and New Street stations. After HS2 Ltd revealed to Birmingham council that the proposed high speed rail station would be located in Curzon Street (adjacent to Moor Street), Centro appears to have finally woken up to the image problem created by the St Martin’s tunnel.

Fri 02/03/2012

Design work starts on link between Birmingham rail stations and planned high speed hub

Plans are being drawn up to make it easier, quicker and more pleasant to travel between two of Birmingham’s key train stations and the emerging Eastside district, site of the city’s future high speed rail hub.

Centro, the region’s transport authority, has appointed city architects Glenn Howells Architects (GHA) to develop detailed proposals for a high quality link between Eastside, Moor Street Station, New Street Station and the wider city centre.

More than one million passengers travel the route each year but Centro and the city council hope to create an interchange between the two stations and the high speed (HS2) hub that gives the feel of being in one connected station.

Given the amount of public highway (and ugly concrete) involved, it’s going to be a bit of a challenge to get the “feel of being in one connected station“. And as anyone familiar with Snow Hill rail or Pool Meadow bus stations will know, Centro’s aesthetic sensibilities leave a lot to be desired. Glenn Howells Architects seem to be involved with the plan to create 21st century slums at Icknield Port, and the scheme to cover the site of Birmingham Central Library with nondescript high-rise office blocks.

Written by beleben

March 6, 2012 at 11:26 am

Lifted and shafted

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At a House of Commons reception organised by Birmingham council, leader Mike Whitby told MPs that he had “personally secured jobs at Longbridge after building links between the city and China”, according to Jonathan Walker of the Birmingham Post.

Coun Whitby told the reception that his efforts promoting Birmingham in China had paid off following the collapse of MG Rover in 2005.

The carmaker was bought by Chinese firm Nanjing Automotive – which in turn was taken over by Shanghai-based SAIC – which could have shifted all production to China.

He added: “And then sadly we had the demise of Rover. And Nanjing automotive company purchased the MG mark. There were fears that Nanjing would “lift and shift” the Rover operation, moving machinery to China to build cars there, he said.

“But because we then said this city is going to reach out and welcome in, they saw a rationale for being here.

“Eventually they were taken over by SAIC. And I went to Shanghai and I made an appeal to their directors and said: ‘you see in Birmingham a city that has a vision, which is underpinned by what we call a Big City Plan’. Clearly they saw that we had the vision to drive forward this city.”

He added: “And now in fact SAIC actually does make cars in Longbridge and employs 300 people that are engineers and designers and their European headquarters are there.”

I don’t think Mr Whitby’s account is accurate. The vast majority of the Longbridge plant has been reduced to rubble. SAIC does not “make cars in Longbridge”, it just runs a small scale assembly operation. And Nanjing/SAIC did “lift and shift” the whole Rover operation, moving machinery to China to build cars there.

Written by beleben

February 28, 2012 at 4:02 pm

No lighty? No likey

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In an opinion piece dated 4 October 2010, Birmingham Mail columnist Paul Fulford offered the following advice to motorists,

Truth is, drivers, if you want to avoid fines and points, obey the limit. And make the roads safer for the rest of us

and his column of 7 February 2012 mentioned his embarrassment at being

snapped by a speed camera on the Small Heath by-pass well over the 40mph limit.

Exceeding the speed limit is a serious road safety and quality of life issue in Birmingham, as it is in other towns. But speeding is also a lucrative ‘industry’, whose mainstays and beneficiaries include speed camera manufacturers, providers of speed awareness courses, and safety camera partnerships (police and local authorities).

Birmingham speed camera map, 2009

For PR reasons, speed camera partnerships were renamed ‘casualty reduction schemes’, but virtually their entire activity is speed cameras. As far as the partnerships are concerned, it’s “No Camera Flash Lighty? No likey”. Their interest in road safety starts, and finishes, with speed cameras firing off.

'West Midlands Casualty Reduction Scheme' website header

If the public policy objective were ‘maximise reduction of road casualties’, the pattern of expenditure would certainly not emphasise investment on speed cameras on rural sections of the A45 Coventry Road, the Small Heath by-pass, and suchlike. Instead, it would be on traffic calming and control in residential roads in populated areas, better signposting, a usable network of cycleways, etc.

Written by beleben

February 15, 2012 at 7:31 pm

Yet more nonsense from Go HS2

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Earlier stories:
More nonsense from Go HS2 | Boulevard Merde de Taureau | Geoff Inskip and HS2 “released capacity”

On January 11, transport secretary Justine Greening visited the site earmarked for the Birmingham HS2 terminal, adjacent to the old Curzon Street station. According to Centro (Go HS2),

Ms Greening made the five minute walk from New Street station to the proposed entrance to the Curzon Street HS2 terminal and viewed the site, as well as the original Curzon Street station dating from 1838.

She said that the 45-minute HS2 journey from Birmingham city centre to London would be similar to many journey times just getting around London.

45 minutes is also similar to many journey times “just getting around Birmingham”. The local leg at each end of a high speed rail journey is a determinant of the magnitude of door-to-door time savings. That is, if there are any.

In the case of HS2, the isochrone is tightly drawn around Curzon Street and Bickenhill stations. In other words, for most people in the West Midlands (in the Black Country, Coventry, and parts of Birmingham itself), using HS2 would not confer any time saving.

Yet according to Centro’s spin, HS2 seems to be getting quicker all the time. Birmingham to London by HS2 has spun down to “45 minutes” (previously “49 minutes”) and Curzon Street HS2 terminal to New Street station is ‘five minutes’., Birmingham walk details for Curzon Street to New-Street station

Written by beleben

January 16, 2012 at 4:57 pm