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Birmingham's Centenary Square opens after near £16m transformation

By Carl Jackson | Birmingham | News | Published:

Birmingham's new £16m Centenary Square has opened for the first time amid controversy over spiralling costs.

The new pool is the centrepiece of the Centenary Square in Birmingham

The public space, surrounded Symphony Hall, Library of Birmingham and the Hall of Memory, features shallow reflective pool with jets shooting water upwards and towering lighting.

New paving and seating has been installed alongside 5,000 new plants.

But the scheme has been hit by controversy with complications causing a year-long delay in completion with overall costs spiralling from £12m to near £16m.

It will also continue to be surrounded by building sites for the foreseeable future largely due to the extension of the Midland Metro line, a redevelopment of Symphony Hall and with a facelift to Birmingham Repertory Theatre announced in recent days.

Birmingham City Council's deputy leader, Councillor Brigid Jones, said the square represented the city’s ‘past, present and future’ and added: "The square is no longer just a place for people to pass through we wanted it to be something for the people of Birmingham to come and socialise in, somewhere for people to sit and enjoy and somewhere to play as well."

The square opened for the first time on Wednesday morning.

And officials talks of the importance of the site as a catalyst for investment, highlighting the nearby developments of the new city HSBC site and Paradise scheme.

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Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) has provided the bulk of the funding with an investment of £10.5m.

Simon Marks, director for optimising assets at the LEP,  hailed the project as a "shrewd investment".

He said: “If you look at Centenary Square you have got HSBC, got HMRC, talk of another building at Arena coming, we know Paradise obviously is coming forward at pace, we’ve got the Metro coming through, we’ve got the Symphony Hall extension, actually you need that fantastic public realm to knit it all together to give people a space to enjoy.

“When international investors come over or home-grown UK businesses come they want to invest in places where their staff are going to want to live and going to want to work and enjoy the quality of that public realm.”

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Birmingham City Council growth director, Waheed Nazir, admitted the delayed work had "not been without its challenges".

He was referring to the need to retain fire exits around the site for the various attractions, the discovery of an old canal basin and mill as well as the disruption caused by events such as the Conservative Party conference last September – among other factors.

But Mr Nazir said the investment in the square was "part of the sell" in attracting the likes of HSBC to set up nearby.

Centenary Square has been transformed after a multi-million pound redevelopment

He added: "Our vision was to enhance connections and to breathe new life into these new public squares, produce pedestrian routes to become the preferred route for people to walk around the city centre."

The design of the scheme has also caused division, particularly those dominating lighting columns. 

There were 185 entries from 30 countries bidding to create the vision for the new Centenary Square.

Ultimately it was  Edinburgh-based Graeme Massie Architects that were chosen. 

Sasha Bhavan, of Knox Bhavan Architects and a member of the judging panel for the entries, explained why their concept was selected.

She said: “It had that essence of the thing you hadn’t thought of, this hall of columns and the idea that it could work in the day and work at night and make  a 3D room in the city. It all hinged on the columns.

“What was very, very impressive to us was that Graeme Massey designed those columns, had gone through a prototype exercise, they had them costed, we realised that this dreamy view was realisable.”

Carl Jackson

By Carl Jackson
@CarlJackson_LDR

Local Democracy Reporter covering Birmingham City Council.

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