New Centenary Square questioned by ex-mayor
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