Four reasons the Birmingham Smithfield saga rumbled on - and what’s next for major project

It was back in 2016 that Birmingham City Council first published its ambitious Smithfield Masterplan for the city centre. Fast forward around eight years later and the enormous development has finally been given the green light by the council’s planning committee.

The ‘once-in-a-generation’ plan is set to transform the former Birmingham wholesale market site, near the Bullring shopping centre, into a major new destination, complete with homes, leisure and cultural spaces, a theatre/cinema, market, park and more. There has been optimism over the years that the huge scheme will celebrate Birmingham’s heritage, become a must-visit place and boost the city’s international standing.

There have also been a few twists and turns along the way for the project, such as concerns from Historic England and the proposals being deferred in May of this year. With the plans finally approved, here’s a look at how the Smithfield saga unfolded and what’s next for the landmark development.

READ MORE: Major Smithfield plans to 'transform' Birmingham city centre approved

1) Lendlease appointed

Birmingham City Council published its Smithfield Masterplan in 2016, saying at the time the site had all the ingredients to become a “hugely successful and vibrant” place.

Around four years later in 2020, the council formally appointed Lendlease Smithfield Development LLP as its Joint Venture Partner to deliver the Masterplan following a “lengthy and complex” process.

2) Concerns from Historic England

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

"The site occupies an important position in that it's regarded as Birmingham’s birthplace,” it wrote in February 2023. “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."

Illustration of Manor Square. Taken from a supplementary design document.
Illustration of Manor Square. Taken from a supplementary design document. -Credit:Lendlease/Prior + Partners

3) Consultation on updated plans

With the proposals having been revised, a public consultation on the updated plans was carried out in 2023. This involved a series of events in which members of the public were invited to view and provide feedback on the planned changes.

The revised Smithfield proposals were then lodged in early 2024, with the developers saying that the original proposed development had been “reviewed and refined” to ensure the envisaged benefits while also “responding to the comments from Historic England”.

4) Proposals deferred

The Smithfield proposals were then deferred at a planning committee in May amid concerns over its open spaces. It wouldn’t be until the next month in June that the plans were finally approved.

A council officer’s report, published prior to this month’s meeting, said the applicant had committed to a 23 per cent increase in the minimum size of Smithfield Park following previous concerns. “This is considered by officers to be a meaningful increase in public open space that addresses comments made by members with regards to the size of Smithfield Park,” the report stated.

A previous report, published prior to the meeting in May, also described the Smithfield project as 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,” it said.

There had previously been concerns over the scheme regarding the size of Manor Square too. Focusing on the public square, the new report stated that it could host events of “varying scales” whilst also functioning for everyday use.

“The applicant provided an indicative event capacity study, which shows an indicative 6,900 people capacity event,” it said. “This information shows that Manor Square is of sufficient space to accommodate large scale public events whilst also being flexible in the nature and scale of events that could be programmed throughout the year.”

What’s next

Lendlease announced in May that it would be stepping back from UK construction as part of major restructure plans. Development and construction would become ‘Australia only’ under the new plans.

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. Following the council’s decision this month, a spokesperson for Lendlease said obtaining planning permission was a “major milestone” for the project.

“We’re looking forward to continuing to work with all of our partners and the local community as work progresses,” they continued. Speaking to Estates Gazette last month, European chief executive Andrea Ruckstuhi also 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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