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£10.5m Centenary Square refurbishment plan slammed as ‘vanity project’

£10.5m Centenary Square refurbishment plan slammed as ‘vanity project’

🕔19.Apr 2016

A decision by Birmingham city council to press ahead with a £10.5 million refurbishment of Centenary Square at a time when local government is facing more austerity has been criticised by opposition councillors.

Liberal Democrat group leader John Hunt described the makeover as a “vanity project” and said people would find it odd that money could be found for a new water feature for Centenary Square when the ‘Floozie in the Jacuzzi’ fountain in nearby Victoria Square is out of action and has been turned into a flower bed because the council can’t afford the cost of repairs.

Conservative group leader Robert Alden claimed the design for Centenary Square, which includes a water feature with fountain jets, lighting columns, a glade of trees, and a stop for the metro tram system, lacked vision and ambition.

It emerged that the council has set aside £60,000 to cover the annual maintenance cost of the water feature and hopes to raise more money by letting Centenary Square for public performances.

Cllr Alden warned the maintenance budget would not be high enough and predicted the water feature “will not be here in 15 years’ time”.

He said the council realised “something had to be done” about Centenary Square but the planned scheme was of poor quality and there was a danger of “throwing money at it”.

The comments, at the final cabinet meeting before next month’s council elections, were aimed at the controlling Labour group, although work to redesign Centenary Square started before 2012 when a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition ran Birmingham.

The £10.5 million cost is not being met directly by the council – the project will be funded by the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership through finance from the city centre Enterprise Zone.

The council announced almost a year ago that Edinburgh-based Graham Massie Architects had been selected in an open competition from more than 200 contenders to redesign Centenary Square and turn the area into a “world class public space” where people would be able to “pass through, linger and enjoy”.

A judging panel explained why they were impressed with the winning scheme, known as the Hall of Columns:

  • The lighting columns will provide a unique and iconic image for Birmingham.
  • The scheme is multi-dimensional, incorporating trees, seating and water with a ceiling of lights which can be appreciated not just from the square but from the terrace of the library and the higher floors of surrounding buildings too.
  • The ‘timeless simplicity’ of the design offers the flexibility for the location to be used for a wide range of events in the long-term.
  • The design fits in well with the existing and planned developments in the area and complements the history of the square as well as providing an iconic design for the future.

Councillor Stewart Stacey, cabinet member for commissioning, contracting and improvement, hinted today that the design could be changed before an application for planning permission is submitted. Cllr Stacey said:

There won’t be any money paid until we have a satisfactory design. This is work in progress and the people of Birmingham will judge this when the work has been completed.

He added:

GBSLEP says we have to spend this money. If we don’t, they will give it to someone else.

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