Birmingham Smithfield timeline amid latest twist for huge city centre project

The Birmingham Smithfield plans have often been described as a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ to create a landmark new development in the heart of Brum. The enormous plans intend to transform the former Birmingham wholesale market site near the Bullring shopping centre into a major new destination with leisure and cultural spaces.

The site could potentially boast residential buildings and office space as well as a pub/bar, market, theatre/cinema, park, retail and much more. There has been a lot of hope over the years that the huge project will celebrate Birmingham’s heritage, become a must-visit place and drive the city’s international standing and reputation.

However, news this week that Lendlease, a global real estate group who are behind the venture, are to step back from UK construction raised questions over its future. Following this announcement, here’s a look at the Smithfield story and the twists and turns we’ve seen so far.

READ MORE: Developers for huge Birmingham city centre project in major update after 'restructure'

September 2016 - Smithfield Masterplan

Birmingham City Council published its Smithfield Masterplan in 2016, saying at the time that the site has all the ingredients to become a “hugely successful and vibrant place.” Four years later, following a lengthy and complex process, the council formally appointed Lendlease Smithfield Development LLP as its Joint Venture Partner to deliver the Masterplan.

March 2022 - public consultation

A public consultation on the proposals were launched in 2022, with Brummies being asked to help shape the future of the heart of the city. Councillor Ian Ward, who was leader of Birmingham City Council at the time, said: “Smithfield Birmingham will become a shining example of inclusive economic growth that will create a real legacy.”

December 2022 - planning application submitted

A planning application was submitted to Birmingham City Council towards the end of 2022. However, Historic England raised concerns, arguing the development could disturb significant Medieval remains.

In February 2023, it wrote: "The site occupies an important position in that it's regarded as Birmingham’s birthplace. It is where the settlement first developed around the moated manor house of the de Birmingham family, the Parish Church of St Martin’s and, subsequently, its marketplace, the Bull Ring."

The proposals were revised, with a public consultation on the updated plans being carried out in 2023.

January 2024 - Revised proposals

Revised proposals for the huge Smithfield development in Birmingham were lodged in early 2024. The developers wrote in a cover letter that the original proposed development had been “reviewed and refined” to ensure the envisaged benefits while also “responding to the comments from Historic England”.

It added that in June 2023, the plans were amended so that Festival Square would be renamed Manor Square and moved north. The Smithfield website read: “Revised designs for Smithfield Birmingham, a landmark scheme that will regenerate a 17-hectare site in the heart of Birmingham, have been submitted to the City Council, after the public were invited to a series of events to view and provide feedback on planned changes for Smithfield Birmingham.”

May 2024 - proposals deferred

The revised Smithfield proposals were deferred at a planning committee in May amid concerns over its open spaces. Cllr Lee Marsham said: “It’s critical we get Smithfield right and so much of what is proposed is really good.

“It’s almost there - the layout, the number of homes being built." “I think it just needs a slight tweak or two,” he added, referring to access to open spaces and whether more could be done to provide a more flexible event space.

On the concerns raised over the proposed Smithfield Park, a council officer’s report said: “Objections refer to requirements for public open space per resident and highlight that the proposed park falls below these requirements, coupled with a lack of existing green spaces within the city centre. However, this is a very dense city centre proposal, therefore providing open space requirements on this character of development would make the proposal unviable, as much of the site would be open space and not developable.”

The report acknowledged there had also been objection to the scheme regarding the size of the public square and its ability to be used for events such as Pride. “There is no planning policy requirement for the square to be of a minimum size or hold any particular events,” it continued.

“Nonetheless, the estimated capacity for events in Manor Square is 6,500-7,000 people. This is not insubstantial.”

May 2024 - Lendlease announcement

Later in the same month, the group behind the Smithfield proposals issued an update after announcing it would be stepping back from UK construction. Questions were raised after Lendlease revealed major restructure plans which would see development and construction become ‘Australia only’.

According to a strategy document, Lendlease plans an “orderly capital release” from overseas development projects in the UK and US while trying to maximise value and preserve key stakeholder relationships. A spokesperson for Lendlease told the Local Democracy Reporting service: “We’re working hard on securing a planning consent to regenerate this 17-hectare site in the heart of the city and look forward to presenting our application again in the near future.”

Speaking to Estates Gazette, European chief executive Andrea Ruckstuhi said Lendlease would keep pushing the Smithfield scheme to a “value stage”, making it an investible project for capital to come in on. “We are not stepping away from any of our projects in Europe,” he said.

“It is not about stopping. Looking forward we will be more focused on capital recycling and on how we take historical capital in the project out and how we align with third-party capital to find a solution for projects.”

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