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Countdown to John Lewis opening as Grand Central owners plan ‘crowd control management’

Countdown to John Lewis opening as Grand Central owners plan ‘crowd control management’

🕔16.Apr 2015

It is a little over seven years since the Government finally gave approval for the £600 million refurbishment of Birmingham New Street Station. And six months today, a John Lewis department store will open in the shopping centre above the new-look station, writes Paul Dale.

The arrival of John Lewis has been likened to the icing on the cake by city council leaders.

Not only will Birmingham be getting a modern railway station whose vast atriums are capable of comfortably handling twice as many passengers, the city centre will have a new shopping centre to rival the Bull Ring and Mailbox.

The 250,000 sq ft store is the anchor tenant of the new Grand Central retail development, which replaces the Pallasades, and will be one of the largest John Lewis stores outside of London.

Other developments taking place this year point to Birmingham’s rise as a tourist destination centre.

These include refurbishment of the Mailbox and Selfridges as well as the Resorts World Birmingham, the UK’s first integrated destination leisure complex opening at the NEC. A little further down the track, the redevelopment of Paradise Circus and the long-awaited development of Arena Central will contribute further to a success story and make Birmingham the sort of place people want to visit.

Schemes talked about for so many years are finally bearing fruit, helped to a certain extent by the business rates uplift provided by the city centre enterprise zone. With Rugby World cup matches taking place here this year and an Ashes test match at Edgbaston, Birmingham will be a destination of choice for sports fans as well as for shoppers.

A campaign is beginning to roll out – Welcome to More Birmingham – that is showcasing the new developments, events and milestone anniversaries. 

Whisper it softly though, but there are some concerns that Birmingham may be a victim of its own success. Millions of visitors want to come here, but they will not relish the traffic chaos that has been a hallmark of the city centre for decades, made far worse by road works around the Paradise re-development and on the M6.

This month’s meeting of Birmingham city council featured the usual complaints about congestion on the roads. The cabinet member for transport, Tahir Ali, had to sit and listen to a councillor calling him the cabinet member for traffic jams.

As for those arriving by rail, do not expect the refurbished New Street Station to provide any additional capacity for trains. The atriums and waiting areas will provide a superior experience for passengers wishing to browse through John Lewis, but the descent on escalators down to the New Street platforms will be as uncomfortable at peak periods as it ever was.

Not much has changed since 2008 when I pointed out that the then Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly was woefully unaware of the New Street capacity issue. Her successor, Patrick McLoughlin has not, as far as I am aware, put in place any plans to increase track and platform capacity at New Street.

It is inevitable at very busy times that some form of crowd control will have to be in place at New Street, as already happens, to limit the number of passengers able to access the platforms. This is not a ‘good look’ for Birmingham.

The owners of Grand Central have told Chamberlain Files they expect to have to implement “effective crowd management procedures” when John Lewis and the rest of the centre opens.

A spokeswoman said:

We are thoroughly excited to be opening the doors of Grand Central Birmingham in September. Grand Central is already working closely with the council, Police, Network Rail, the station management and all other responsible authorities regarding the planning and delivery of the launch, to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for those who visit the centre.

This will include implementing effective crowd management procedures to account for the additional anticipated footfall which may be created by Grand Central during the launch period.

As the politicians say, we are where we are and it would be churlish not to recognise the importance attached to the arrival of John Lewis.

One of the largest John Lewis shops outside of London, the Birmingham outlet will be the business’ first full-line department store to open in four years and represents a £35 million investment.

A John Lewis spokesperson said the store will showcase “the best of the department store’s offer”, allowing customers to shop from more than 350,000 products from the retailer’s full range, including those leading the latest fashion, furniture, homewares, beauty and technology trends.

Beauty brands to be stocked in John Lewis Birmingham include Liz Earle, Tom Ford, Origins, Laura Mercier, La Prairie and Elemis.

Recruitment for over 650 positions at the new shop is underway with some specialist roles and the majority of jobs will go live in May.

Birmingham city council leader Sir Albert Bore said:

The scale of John Lewis’ investment demonstrates real commitment to the city and clear recognition of Birmingham’s growing role as a leading destination outside of the capital – for business, leisure, and tourism.

Not only will John Lewis – as anchor tenant in the Grand Central development – play a key role in regenerating the south side of the city, but by joining Birmingham City Council in signing the Jobs and Skills Charter and providing more than 650 new jobs for local people, the shop will also have a positive impact on the future of hundreds of the city’s residents and their families.

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