Birmingham City Council transport boss outlines the vision for buses in the city centre

The ambitious plans are set to to be approved by cabinet members next week.

Birmingham City Council Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment Cllr Wassem Zaffar, cabinet member for transport and environment explains why buses are crucial to plans to restrict cars in the city centre and calls for a London-style transport system.

Radical plans to restrict the use of cars in Birmingham City Council will rely on buses being able to transport people in and out of the city, the councillor overseeing the policies has told BirminghamWorld.

Birmingham City Council is set to restrict cars from driving around the city centre in the coming months and longer term plans which could see the A38 Queensway tunnel permanently blocked.

Cllr Waseem Zaffer, cabinet member for transport and environment says buses will play a key part in making the plans work. They will be given priority to drive through the city centre to transport people to where they want to go.

He also pointed out that the council’s bid to central government for 200 hydrogen buses is also key.

Cllr Waseem Zaffar

5 things about the radical Birmingham City Council transport plan

The city centre will be divided into seven segments and cars will be unable to drive between each one without driving onto the A450 Middleway Ring Road in the coming months

The council is looking at longer term plans to permanently block the A38 Queensway tunnel.

Public transport, pedestrians and cyclists are to be given priority access in the city centre to improve the city’s air pollution levels – thought to be responsible for 900 deaths per year – and help its climate impact.

Snow Hill and Moor Street stations are intended to be “re-modelled” with extra capacity, with links “taking passengers directly to” the upcoming Curzon Street HS2 station.

City centre car parks could be turned into housing.

A suggestion includes blocking traffic from using the A38 Queensway

The role of buses and why Birmingham needs a London-style transport system

Cllr Wassem Zaffar, Cabinet Member for Transport and Environment said: “Birmingham’s bus network is probably the most important cog in the wheel of how people move in and about the city.

“Through this plan we are absolutely clear that we are going to give buses more priority on the highway network and that will include the reliability of bus services and hopefully get people on the bus network.

“We also have also bid to the government for 200 hydrogen buses which we think are the cleanest and greenest buses on the market.

“But if we are going to get all of this right then we need a public transport system which is fit for purpose and the transport system we need is the London style transport system, where the Government gives London and the mayor of London the right level of power to be able to make the right decisions in terms of pricing and the services on the road as well as the money to support it.

“What i’m saying to the government is ‘give us a London-style transport system’ and give us the powers we need which London has and give us the resources which you give to the capital based on our population and we will deliver the most effective transport system in the country.”

Snow Hill and Moor Street stations are also intended to be “re-modelled” with extra capacity, with links “taking passengers directly to” the upcoming Curzon Street HS2 station.

Why things have to change

Cllr Wassem Zaffar, Cabinet member for transport and environment, said health inequalities, climate change and air pollution are the driving factors behind the plans.

He said: “We have major challenges around air pollution with almost 1,000 people dying prematurely every year because of the air pollution - kids growing up in Birmingham are losing six months of their lives because of growing up here and that’s not a city that I want my children growing up in and that has to change.

“With the climate emergency we want to become carbon neutral by 2030, and transport is the biggest gas emitter in our city so how can we reduce the carbon footprint for the transport network in Birmingham.

“A quarter of car journeys in our city are going less than a mile - so people are going to their local schools, the shops or out for a coffee and they drive there and this is part of the culture of our city.

“So imagine taking half of those journeys off the road everyday and having that space on the highway network because cars will always have a role in our city.

“And think about how you can get buses through the network and think about the reduction on inequality and the positive impact of you getting your 10,000 steps in everyday or a little bike ride in, so we need a plan and a vision which brings all these pieces of the jigsaw together and this is what the ambitious transport plan does.”

Birmingham City Council is looking at plans to block the A38 Queensway tunnel as part of a huge number of car restrictions in the city centre

Birmingham could see plans progress in a matter of months

The “segment” system for within the A4540 ring road is “one of the closest things” to becoming reality in a finalised transport plan, according to Cllr Zaffar.

Some of the measures have already been introduced in the Jewellery Quarter, while completely new measures have been suggested between Eastside/Digbeth and Southside/Highgate.

Cllr Zaffar said the early adoption of some of the measures during the pandemic had been “largely a success”.

He said: “I think the segments plan is one of the closest things to reality because we trialled some of that during the emergency transport plan during the pandemic.

“We know from conversations from people who walk, use public transport, that they are very supportive of the plans around the segments. So I think you will see over the coming months the delivery of the segments being something that is brought forward faster than some of the other big moves within the Birmingham transport plan.”

Birmingham City Centre Segments

‘We will look at the use of A38 Queensway’

One idea mooted in the documents is for the A38 Queensway to be closed to traffic, with cars again diverted to the ring road. The documents suggests the measure would mean the route is given over to green space and walking and cycling routes.

Cllr Zaffar said: “I want to clarify that there are no plans at the moment to close A38 tunnels.

“What we have said in the transport plan and what we have always said during the consultation phase is – we have got all these major changes happening to transport in Birmingham. “The plan sets out a massive vision, an ambitious and bold vision.

“We have got a motorway running right through the heart of the city through the A38.

“I think it would be rather unfair if we didn’t have a look at the current use of the A38 tunnels in line with our policies. For that to happen, there needs to be an extensive piece of work which looks at alternative plans, which engages with key stakeholders in the city, consults with the wider public before that can be brought forward.

“So it is very, very early days with respect to the future use of the A38 tunnels and I would be surprised if we get anything around that in the coming months at the very earliest.”

Birmingham City Council’s transport plan, which is set to be approved next week (October 12).

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