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Sir Albert stars in ‘Birmingham is great’ film, but Kerslake doesn’t fit the script

Sir Albert stars in ‘Birmingham is great’ film, but Kerslake doesn’t fit the script

🕔29.Sep 2015

A ‘Birmingham is great’ film featuring Sir Albert Bore talking for 13 minutes about New Street Station, Grand Central shopping centre, John Lewis and the regeneration revolution has been released by the city council.

The video by Big Centre TV shows Sir Albert at the front of the Council House speaking to camera about 30 years of transforming the city centre from “rather dull” to a “vibrant and exciting” place with a shopping offer to rival anywhere else in the country.

Sir Albert talks about big decisions taken from the late-1980s through to today, covering a period when he rose from being a Labour backbench councillor to chairman of the economic development committee and leader of the city council between 1999 and 2004 and from 2012 onwards.

The interviewer, former Central TV broadcaster Bob Hall, is heard but never seen putting questions to Sir Albert, gently inviting him to recall important moments throughout his council career.



The Kerslake Review of the city council’s governance capabilities, which exposed years of poor leadership and resulted in the council being overseen by the Birmingham Independent Improvement Panel, is, unsurprisingly, never mentioned.

But it is clear from his remarks that Sir Albert wishes to contrast Kerslake’s criticism and doubts about Birmingham’s local government leadership qualities, with the cultural and economic renaissance of Birmingham city centre, and his role at the centre of that transformation.

His loudest critics, who claim the council has spent too much time and money on retail developments in the city centre at the expense of the suburbs, are given short shrift:

There were people put off coming to Birmingham city centre in the 1980s because it was a dull place. There was real poverty around the city centre in many respects.

It wasn’t an exciting place. It didn’t have the facilities it’s got now. There weren’t the restaurants, there weren’t the hotels there weren’t the leisure facilities that we have around the city centre in 2015.

People talk about has there been too much investment in the city centre? There had to be investment in the city centre because you had to make Birmingham an attractive centre.

People see the city centre first. They see the suburbs in due course. You had to do something with Birmingham city centre.

The problem was Birmingham didn’t have very much to offer.

It was difficult in the early days to get investment to come into Birmingham to put things right.

Now it’s not a problem. Birmingham means so much more to people. Investors are happy to invest in the city because they can see the returns they will get. In the 1980s that wasn’t the case.

He talks about Birmingham’s “image problem” of the 1980s, which put off investors:

It was a metal bashing and low skills economy. Even today there’s a misconception about what Birmingham has to offer.

And there’s a slightly exasperated call for Brummies to champion the city:

Birmingham folk are very proud of their city but they are not quick to champion the city. They are inwardly proud. They don’t speak up for Birmingham. We have to sell Birmingham on a much bigger scale.

You can’t extoll the virtues of Birmingham unless there are virtues to extoll.

We have still got a long way to go. Let’s not pretend Birmingham isn’t in need of further regeneration, there are lots of schemes we have to get on with.

The bulk of his remarks are reserved for New Street Station and Grand Central – the film was shot on the day John Lewis and Grand Central opened.

Sir Albert says:

New Street Station was a dingy place most people didn’t want to come through. What you now have is a wonderful station, light and full of space that people can wonder through, and Grand Central adds to that.

We have lots of visitors coming through New Street Station. When they came through the old New Street they must have thought what’s Birmingham got to offer me? When they come through the new New Street they will feel they are coming into a vibrant city.

Harvey Nichols is doubling in size we have Selfridges, John Lewis, Debenhams. Birmingham has a shopping offer most other cities can’t provide.

This is a package of activities that starts to make Birmingham great. There is some way to go. There are a few things we need to deal with. Birmingham is an exciting vibrant city, a city that can hold its head up high. People should be proud of the city that Birmingham has become.

The message is reinforced by Sir Albert on the council’s Birmingham Newsroom website, where he makes it clear that regeneration has to continue and Birmingham cannot stand still:

Next month will see the adoption of the Snow Hill master plan and the contract signed that will see the wholesale markets move to a specially designed site in Witton. The £600 million master plan will see the business district, around Colmore Row, transformed and win further investment from global business, particularly from the professional and financial services sectors, in an effort to emulate the success of London’s Canary Wharf and create thousands of jobs

We have already seen HSBC commit to move its HQ to Birmingham and I expect many more firms to follow, along with the young families already leaving London for a better quality of life. They are finding it here in Birmingham.

In what is a relatively short period of time, since the mid-1990s, we have seen the ICC, Symphony Hall, Mailbox, Brindley Place and the Library of Birmingham all regenerate and rejuvenate the city.

And don’t forget, HS2 is coming down the track, with all the development, investment, skills and jobs that will attract around Eastside/Curzon Street and across Birmingham as a whole.

The transformation of New Street station and opening of Grand Central, plus the amazing arts and sports events of this weekend, has really showcased just what we have to offer. We now have a retail offer that most cities simply can’t provide and a railway station that people will want to come to and through, that will let them know they have arrived at a vibrant city.

We can all hold our heads up high and be proud of what we have become, and continue to move ‘Forward’ – fulfilling the motto of Birmingham.

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