New Cen­te­nary Square ques­tioned by ex-mayor

Birmingham Post - - NEWS - Gra­ham Young Staff Re­porter

ONE of the driv­ing forces be­hind the orig­i­nal de­vel­op­ment of Birm­ing­ham’s orig­i­nal Cen­te­nary Square has crit­i­cised its re­de­vel­op­ment just 27 years af­ter it opened.

This week Birm­ing­ham City Coun­cil re­vealed the new £10 mil­lion re­vamp will now over­run by a year and is not due to be fin­ished un­til the sum­mer of 2019.

The de­lay means this week’s Con­ser­va­tive Party Con­fer­ence was held in the mid­dle of a gi­ant build­ing site, with Arena Cen­tral on the other side of Broad Street, and Par­adise at the end of it, also home to ma­jor con­struc­tion projects.

For­mer Con­ser­va­tive city group leader Sir Bernard Ziss­man was Lord Mayor in 1990, just be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Con­ven­tion Cen­tre and Sym­phony Hall opened next to Cen­te­nary Square in 1991.

Although the projects were even­tu­ally de­liv­ered un­der Labour, he said the idea, de­vel­op­ment and plans were from the Con­ser­va­tives.

Now liv­ing near Lon­don to be near to his fam­ily, Sir Bernard is still a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor to the city ev­ery fort­night or so.

He said: “Ev­ery time I go up the glass lift in the Hy­att Ho­tel and look down at Cen­te­nary Square I won­der what they are do­ing.

“When­ever I ask any­body what is hap­pen­ing, no­body can tell me.”

The Square was of­fi­cially opened by Labour coun­cil leader Sir Richard Knowles on June 9, 1991, hav­ing been named in 1989 to co­in­cide with the 100th an­niver­sary of Birm­ing­ham’s city sta­tus.

The Ital­ianate de­sign had space for ma­jor pub­lic events and a Ray­mond Ma­son statue called For­ward, com­mem­o­rat­ing the her­itage of the city’s in­dus­trial work­ers. It was de­stroyed by fire in April 2003.

But, fol­low­ing the open­ing of the Li­brary of Birm­ing­ham in 2013, a com­pe­ti­tion was held to find a new de­sign for the square.

Hav­ing also mas­ter­minded the de­vel­op­ment of the £114 Mil­len­nium Point and over­seen the £500 mil­lion trans­for­ma­tion of New Street Sta­tion for its Septem­ber 2015 re­open­ing, Sir Bernard now ques­tions why the sum­mer of 2018 tar­get had not been met un­less it was be­cause the Cen­te­nary Square project had been “badly man­aged”.

“It’s not that long since we did it be­fore, so they would have known about ‘pre-ex­ist­ing ground con­di­tions’,” he said.

“Why a coun­cil in such fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties should see spend­ing £10 mil­lion on Cen­te­nary Square as a pri­or­ity, I don’t know – un­less some­one else is pay­ing for it.

“I also don’t think they are go­ing to make it look bet­ter than it was. What all cities lack is open space and the de­signs I have seen make the new Cen­te­nary Square look clut­tered.”

Af­ter plan­ning per­mis­sion had been granted, a de­com­mis­sion­ing re­port for the 1991 de­sign noted: “Pav­ing blocks, laid on sand, have a life ex­pectancy of 10 to 20 years and af­ter 25 years are now in poor con­di­tion and be­yond re­pair.

“Over the years ad­di­tional dam­age has been caused as heavy event ve­hi­cles pass over the sur­face caus­ing set­tle­ment and trip haz­ards.

“Many events have taken place upon the brick art­work el­e­ment.”

Sir Bernard coun­tered: “I can’t re­mem­ber what Cen­te­nary Square’s life ex­pectancy was but I can’t be­lieve we only put it down for ten years.

“Twenty years is a gen­er­a­tion, but the square needed to be looked af­ter.

“You have to ask if the square has been mis­used with so many heavy ve­hi­cles and equip­ment on it, such as the ice rink and big wheel.”

Be­cause Cen­te­nary Square is out of ac­tion, this year’s Cen­te­nary Day of Na­tional Re­mem­brance Ser­vice to com­mem­o­rate the end of the First World War will be held in St Philip’s Square, on Sun­day, Novem­ber 11.

The Christ­mas mar­ket will also be held there.

> An artist’s im­pres­sion of the re­de­vel­oped Cen­te­nary Square which is due to be com­pleted next sum­mer

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