‘Once in a generation opportunity’ to reshape Birmingham city centre gets backing - despite Medieval matter

Plans for Manor Square in Smithfield, BirminghamPlans for Manor Square in Smithfield, Birmingham
Plans for Manor Square in Smithfield, Birmingham
An ancient Birmingham city centre site is set for huge development amid Medieval concerns

Revised proposals for the huge Smithfield development in Birmingham have been recommended for approval despite concerns over its public square. 

Dubbed as a ‘once in a generation opportunity’ to reshape the city centre, the Smithfield plans could transform the former Birmingham wholesale markets near the Bullring shopping centre into a thriving new destination with new leisure and cultural spaces.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The site could potentially boast residential buildings, office space, retail, a pub or bar, a market, a theatre or cinema, a park and much more - according to a planning application set to be considered next week.

Lendlease, a global real estate group who are behind the venture, previously said it wanted Smithfield to be a celebration of Birmingham’s heritage while the city council said it could help drive the city’s international standing and reputation.

However, after the original plans were submitted to the council in December 2022, Historic England objected to the proposals, arguing it would not only harm the historic cityscape but also disturb significant Medieval remains.

Plans for Manor Square in Smithfield, BirminghamPlans for Manor Square in Smithfield, Birmingham
Plans for Manor Square in Smithfield, Birmingham

The developers behind the massive project later submitted a revised planning application, writing in a cover letter that the original proposed development has been “reviewed and refined” to ensure the envisaged benefits while also “responding to the comments from Historic England”.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It added that in June 2023 the plans were amended so that Festival Square, previously described as a major new public space, would be renamed Manor Square and moved north.

However, as a council report published this week highlights, the fate of the square was the focus of an objection by Southside BID, which raised concerns that it may only be able “to house small scale events.”

Conservative councillor Gareth Moore argued: “This planning application needs to be urgently revised again to ensure that Festival Square is the large scale, high capacity event space as was originally intended. Promises for a world class event space have not materialised in these plans.”

The report, published ahead of a planning committee meeting next week, acknowledged there had been objection to the scheme regarding the size of the public square and its ability to be used for events such as Pride.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“Currently, the former wholesale markets site can accommodate a large festival, as it is a large, open relatively level space,” it said. “There is objection that Manor Square will not accommodate a festival of that size.

“However, there is no planning policy requirement for the square to be of a minimum size or hold any particular events. Nonetheless, the estimated capacity for events in Manor Square is 6,500-7,000 people. This is not insubstantial.”

The 14 hectares of land previously hosted the beach volleyball, basketball, and wheelchair basketball during the city’s Commonwealth Games, and since 2018 Birmingham Pride – the biggest LGBT+ festival in the UK.The 14 hectares of land previously hosted the beach volleyball, basketball, and wheelchair basketball during the city’s Commonwealth Games, and since 2018 Birmingham Pride – the biggest LGBT+ festival in the UK.
The 14 hectares of land previously hosted the beach volleyball, basketball, and wheelchair basketball during the city’s Commonwealth Games, and since 2018 Birmingham Pride – the biggest LGBT+ festival in the UK.

Campaign group CityPark4Brum also raised concerns and has previously argued that the Smithfield site would be the ideal location for a signature green park. Reacting to the planning application, it argued: “The proposed open and green space throughout the whole site is poorly connected and the proposed park itself is too enclosed and too small.

“Therefore both its location and size does not make Smithfield Park the transformative area of green space currently missing in the city centre that would benefit both residents and visitors alike.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Again, the council officer’s report noted that there had been objection to the size and location of the proposed Smithfield Park. “Objections refer to requirements for public open space per resident and highlight that the proposed park falls below these requirements (2ha per 1000 population), coupled with a lack of existing green spaces within the city centre,” it continued.

“However, it must be noted that this is a very dense city centre proposal, therefore providing these 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. This would conflict with the requirements of the National Planning Policy Framework which seek the most efficient use of brownfield land.”

The report concluded by saying the proposals would provide a “high-quality mixed use and residential development” on brownfield land. It said that the proposed residential units would meaningfully contribute towards the city’s housing shortfall, as well as the regeneration aspirations for that part of the city centre.

“The proposal would create a distinctive place, reproviding the cities markets along with other high quality cultural buildings and public spaces,” it continued. “The scheme would provide other economic, social and environmental benefits that weigh in favour of the proposal.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“A number of significant adverse environmental effects were identified by the submitted Environmental Statement,” it added. “However, it is considered that with the mitigation set out through design and proposed via conditions, these identified effects do not warrant refusal of the application.”

The planning application has been recommended for approval subject to a legal agreement, which would secure the equivalent of 10.87% on-site affordable housing across the masterplan, rising to a potential 20% if grant funding is secured.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.