From Grade A office space to affordable housing: Towards a responsible and inclusive city

City-REDI/University of Birmingham

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce to provide insight on the findings of the Birmingham Economic Review.

The Birmingham Economic Review 2019 is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and is a high quality resource for organisations seeking to understand Birmingham to inform research, policy or investment decisions.

This post is featured in the full Birmingham Economic Review 2019 and the Summary Review. These are available here.

A city is a mosaic of sites and buildings that are connected by infrastructure – roads, footpaths, and cycleways and information communication technology.  Investment decisions made in the past shape the on-going development of the city of Birmingham. Like all cities, Birmingham is a city of contrasts. This includes major regeneration projects intended to provide new office space and housing but also a major homelessness problem combined with a shortage of affordable housing.  Birmingham faces four major development challenges.

First, there is a need to provide more housing and especially affordable housing. The key here is for the Industrial Strategy to recognise the relationship between local housing provision and the availability of skills in local labour markets. This is only part of the challenge that the city faces. It is now becoming absolutely critical for all development decisions involving land and infrastructure to adopt an approach that will eventually transform Birmingham in to a net zero carbon emission city. This is a major challenge and opportunity. Birmingham should lead the way in innovations that will transform the city creating new employment opportunities whilst enhancing the quality of city living but simultaneously reducing carbon emissions.

Second, a key debate must develop regarding the location of new housing provision combined with accessibility to employment, education, health and social services. Reducing carbon emissions must result in a much more localised city in which considerable thought has been given to minimising travel and in ensuring that all travel is part of a net zero carbon emission strategy.

Third, like many other UK cities Birmingham has a shortage of high-quality office space. Birmingham’s economy continues to restructure towards more office-based employment. But, it must also be appreciated that some manufacturing functions require office-style accommodation. The key challenge is in identifying sites and persuading investors that Birmingham is a suitable investment location. This involves planning that is supportive of appropriate development proposals and that the city provides competitive investment yields.

Fourth, retailing and entertainment play an important role in city living. Nationally retailing is undergoing radical restructuring. The near future will see the collapse of more established retailers. Birmingham must rise to the challenge and continue to support the transformation of the city’s retail core into an entertainment and experience space.  

This is an extremely exciting time in which to live and work in Birmingham. The current national debate is dominated by Brexit, but this distracts attention from what should be the primary challenge facing Birmingham and the UK – climate change. Adopting a net zero carbon emission approach to Birmingham will produce major alterations in the way the city is planned and developed. This will require major alterations in everyday living. What is required is an approach to transforming Birmingham that is both responsible and inclusive. A responsible approach will balance present with future needs and outcomes. An inclusive approach will create a safer and more prosperous city. 

Professor John R. Bryson
City-REDI/University of Birmingham