Huge Smithfield plan to transform Birmingham city centre to be considered again after key change

Illustration of Smithfield's Manor Square. Taken from a supplementary design document.
-Credit: (Image: Lendlease/Prior + Partners)

The Birmingham Smithfield plans have been recommended for approval yet again after a key amendment was made to the ‘once in a generation’ project. The huge plans could transform the former Birmingham wholesale markets near the Bullring shopping centre into a landmark new destination.

The site could potentially boast residential buildings and cultural spaces as well as a pub/bar, market, theatre/cinema, park, retail, office space and much more. There has been optimism in recent years that the enormous development could celebrate Birmingham’s heritage, boost the city’s international standing and become a must-visit area.

However, last month the revised Smithfield proposals were deferred at a planning committee meeting after concerns were raised over public open space. Both the proposed Smithfield Park and Manor Square were two areas of concern among councillors.

READ MORE: Birmingham Smithfield timeline amid latest twist for huge city centre project

Cllr Lee Marsham said at the time: “It’s critical we get Smithfield right and so much of what is proposed is really good.

“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.

The plans are now set to be considered again at a planning meeting next week and have been recommended for approval again, subject to the completion of a legal agreement.

Smithfield Park

According to a council officer’s report, the applicant has 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, 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.

Manor Square

There had previously been concerns over the scheme regarding the size of Manor Square and its ability to be used for events such as Pride. Turning its attention to the public square, the new report published this month 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.

“In addition, the space is well designed to function well when temporary events are not occupying the space". When it comes to connections between Smithfield’s open spaces, the report says a variety of alternative illustrative layouts, with a larger Smithfield Park, have been explored by the applicant and submitted to the council.

“The three scenarios demonstrate that Smithfield Park could be delivered in a way that would allow it to be visually prominent and connected to Manor Square whilst maintaining key routes along Bradford Street, Sherlock Street and Cheapside,” it says.

According to the report, the benefits the development could bring to the city include the creation of new jobs, further investment in the area, housing, a new public square and publicly accessible open space. It adds that Smithfield Park, along with Manor Square, Market Square and other pedestrianised spaces, ensures a “well-connected, permeable development made up of interconnected high quality spaces for public use”.

Lendlease announcement

Last month also saw another twist as 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 in May: “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 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.”

The Smithfield proposals will be considered by Birmingham City Council ’s planning committee on Thursday, June 13.

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