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UK Central – the new home for Channel 4, the Commonwealth Games and a second runway?

UK Central – the new home for Channel 4, the Commonwealth Games and a second runway?

🕔07.Apr 2017

At this week’s Birmingham Public Debate, Siôn Simon had Solihull in his sights as an obstacle to progressing the region’s planning and housing needs. But could the Borough be in line not only for some film studios, but as the home to Channel 4 and the Commonwealth Games? Oh, and whisper it, a second runway?

When asked about whether Birmingham or Coventry should be promoted by the West Midlands as its bid city for housing Channel 4, there was a degree of prevarication from most of the candidates. Beverley Nielsen, being the LibDem candidate and literally centre stage at Birmingham Hippodrome, opted for the middle ground. But maybe she was onto something.

This morning’s WMCA Board meeting, the penultimate session before the Mayor takes the chair, will review the UK Central Hub High Level Growth and Infrastructure Plan (HLGIP).

An Urban Growth Company (UGC) – a ‘special purpose delivery vehicle’ – has been created by Solihull Council, backed by the WMCA, to capitalise on the opportunity of the HS2 terminal to be built near to the NEC and Birmingham Airport.

UK Central – the ‘Hub’ as it is now being promoted – is seen as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity.” The UGC is working closely with landowners, operators and stakeholders in the area including Birmingham Airport, the NEC, JLR and the Arden Cross Consortium.

The Hub will will create a ‘landing pad’:

It will create a mobile global investment by creating a new landing pad in the UK and will stimulate the growth in exports by facilitating international trade.

It is, according to the document, “one of the most exciting development growth projects within the UK today.”

The Urban Growth Company expects the UK Central (Hub) will provide:

  • 35,000-77,500 full time equivalent FTE jobs
  • 22,750 person years of construction employment
  • 775,000m2 of new commercial and mixed use floor space
  • 3,000-4,000 homes
  • £2.1-£4.1Bn in GVA.

The potential the Hub offers is “unrivalled” with:

  • Major assets (NEC, Birmingham Airport, Jaguar Land Rover, Arden Cross,) that can provide the basis for growth;
  • Substantial infrastructure investment;
  • Exceptional quality environment – and aspirational setting; and
  • 38 minutes to Central London (31 minutes to Old Oak Common) by high speed train and connectivity to the Midlands region.

The HLGIP sets out stakeholder ambitions for some of the leading players in the area. The section on Birmingham Airport is a masterclass in saying everything and nothing. Nobody would know that there are differing political views on whether Birmingham Airport needs a second runway.

The Plan also looks at the different options for the HS2 terminal and whether this might be a combined facility with an expanding Birmingham Airport.

When the document looks at Phase 4 (beyond 2032), whilst carefully setting out that much work will be required to make the case, the Plan sets out the prospect of a second runway.

It quotes Birmingham Airport saying:

[it] has estimated that a 65 [million passengers per annum] airport with new terminal infrastructure and a second runway could deliver at least £7.3bn in GVA for the greater Birmingham economy and contribute some £11.4Bn  to the total UK economy per annum.

Conservative candidate Andy Street is opposed to a second runway.

The High Level Growth and Infrastructure Plan is not a formal planning document, but will contribute to the evidence base for the 2017-2033 Solihull Local Plan and align with the masterplanning approaches of the landowners and operators.

In the 2023-2027 phase, the Plan suggests the Hub – in particular the NEC – could play a significant role in hosting the 2026 Commonwealth Games.

The Commonwealth Games would drive the development of social infrastructure and encourage some sport anchor occupiers to locate within the Hub (primarily within the NEC site at this stage) following the selection of Birmingham as the host city (potential announcement in 2020).

The document does not specifically say whether the Hub and NEC would house the main stadium for track and field or just other venues. The Plan was, presumably, written before the opportunity to also bid for the 2022 Games also opened up.

The UGC says its ‘early stage’ role is to put in place a:

Value capture mechanism, an infrastructure and funding strategy and to influence development of appropriate planning policy.

The document lays out the market, potential uses of the area and the assumptions on which the Plan and its growth forecasts are based in a series of phases.

There are significant planning considerations, not least in terms of public transport, utilities and what the UGC calls “Green and Blue Infrastructure” – in other words the natural environment of countryside and water.

Planning issues and, in particular, the need to develop in the greenbelt for the Interchange station are highlighted. Tory hopeful Andy Street has been making clear his strict policy of ‘brownfield first’ for housing during the Mayoral campaign, but has acknowledged that Solihull has “bravely give up some decent Greenfield for economic use” according to his spokesperson.

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