Author Archives: Editor

Planning approval granted for former Curzon Street station

The proposed redevelopment of Birmingham’s historic Curzon Street station took a giant leap forward as Birmingham City Council’s planning committee gave the green light to development plans submitted by HS2 Ltd.

Just two years ago any thoughts of bringing the Grade I listed building back to life were simply a pipedream, but thanks to the passion and enthusiasm shown by partners, the historic building is now pitched to be at the forefront of the impressive Eastside regeneration programme.

Under plans approved today HS2 Ltd now has consent to proceed with turning the building, which has lain empty for over a decade, into a visitor centre and education hub which will be shared by Historic England, Birmingham City University and Hs2 Ltd. Ownership of the building will be retained by Birmingham City Council.

The development proposals will see HS2 Ltd take up space on the ground floor of the four story building where it plans to open a visitor centre and community hub, showcasing progress with construction of the new high speed route between London Euston and Birmingham Curzon Street.

Historic England plans to move its West Midlands team to the second floor, which will provide a new regional office for around 30 staff.

Finally, Birmingham City University plan to use the first floor for their new STEAMHouse project which aims to promote growth and job creation by forming clusters of businesses, academics, artists and local communities, similar to that seen in London’s Shoreditch and Kings Cross. Unlike the hugely successful Tech City in Shoreditch, however, STEAMHouse will focus on how the creative arts – rather than science and technology alone – can lead the way in solving the problems facing small businesses.

A number of milestones and governance arrangements, including the signing of a lease agreement between Birmingham City Council and HS2 Ltd and the approval of the council’s full Cabinet Board, await completion before development works can commence.

It is anticipated that design works will start later this month, ahead of on-site refurbishment beginning in November 2017.  The target date for completion of the programme is summer 2018, which will pave the way for work to start on HS2’s new seven platform station which will sit alongside the Grade 1 listed building.

The arrival of HS2 services will slash journey times between Birmingham and London to just 45 minutes when services begin in 2026.  The Y-leg extension of the route to Manchester and Leeds, due to open in 2033, will also offer significant journey time savings.  Travel between Birmingham and Manchester will be just 40 minutes against the current fastest journey time of one hour and 28 minutes, while travel to Leeds will reduce by over an hour.


Mike Lyons, HS2’s Programme Director said:

“The arrival of HS2 is driving growth and regeneration right across the Midlands and it’s fitting that we are playing a leading role in restoring the oldest railway terminus in the world whilst simultaneously revolutionising rail travel for future generations on the very same spot.

“Redeveloping the former Curzon Street station building was never part of HS2’s remit, but we committed to working with Historic England, Birmingham City University and Birmingham City Council to try and make it happen.”

Birmingham City Council leader Cllr John Clancy said:

“The redevelopment of Curzon Street station will link Birmingham’s illustrious past with its bright future. This iconic building was once a focal point for the UK rail network and now it will be at the very heart of HS2.

“It’s clear that the arrival of HS2 will be about so much more than fast trains to and from London. This is a once in a generation opportunity to continue Birmingham’s transformation and the rebirth of Curzon Street station will embody that transformation.”

Veryan Heal, Historic England’s Planning Director said:

“I first saw this wonderful building from the train when I came to Birmingham to start my new job over three years ago. It truly inspired me and I have been determined to find a future for it and take it off the Heritage at Risk Register ever since.

“Curzon Street Station was at the cutting edge of railway technology in the 1830s and it will be playing a cutting edge role again – at the centre of a new railway fit for the twenty-first century. This amazing building was the world’s first mainline passenger railway connected to London and today it still represents the civic pride and ambition of the city of Birmingham.”

Professor Julian Beer, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Birmingham City University said:

“This marks a major step forward in our collective bid to revitalise this historic piece of architecture in a part of our city that has been transformed in recent years.

“Being able to provide businesses, artists and academics with such an iconic place to hold events, workshops and STEAMhouse challenges, right next to our campus is extremely exciting and this news brings it all a step closer.

“This decision means all of us involved can now press ahead with getting the necessary wheels in motion to move us on to the next phase of this process.”

Building Great Homes, Creating Great Places

My speech from today’s launch Building Great Homes, Creating Great Places at the Local Government Association conference here in Birmingham.

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and thank you for joining us for the launch of Building Great Homes, Creating Great Places.

It’s safe to say that housing is one of – if not THE – big topic of discussion here at the LGA Conference.

And, as I reflected in my welcome speech yesterday afternoon, the housing debate changed forever with the horrific Grenfell Tower tragedy just three weeks ago.

We’re under the spotlight and now, more than ever, we must re-double our efforts and work with partners to deliver the quality homes needed by a growing population.

At its most basic level, this is very simple.

This is not a debate about bricks and mortar – it’s about people, families and communities.

People want safe decent homes. They want to feel they can get onto the property ladder, they want to know their children can get onto the property ladder. In short, they want to feel that they matter.

Who can argue with that?

But the scale of the challenge is there for all to see.

Here in Birmingham we need 89,000 new homes over the next 15 years to address an acute housing shortage and meet the needs of Birmingham’s growing population.

That’s a very real and very pressing challenge, which is why, last November, I was delighted that the Government finally endorsed The Birmingham Development Plan.

Our ambitious 15-year strategy goes a long way towards addressing the city’s housing crisis, but of course having the plan is one thing, delivering is what really matters.

As the document we’ve launched today illustrates, our aims are simple but ambitious. We have a commitment to:

  • Build enough new homes of all types
  • Enable people to get and keep the housing they need and eradicate homelessness
  • Improve existing housing and its management

So how do we turn this vision into reality?

I take real pride in the fact that we’ve built more social housing since 2009 than any other local authority in the UK.

Birmingham was also the first local authority to build new homes for sale, and has built more than any other Council.

We pioneered the “buy now, pay later”, approach to the sale of new homes in 2009.

This means the Council shares with developers some of the risks of development – delays in securing planning permission, fixing bad ground conditions, buying land up front in a fragile housing market.

In 2016, we developed this approach further with InReach, so that the City Council acts as developer and takes all of the sales risk, but also captures all of the profit.

The homes are selling faster than they can be built and often well before completion.

We have established the successful Housing Birmingham Partnership, with political and agency leaders committed to working together on long term housing aims.

Our big challenge in Birmingham is of course to build new homes at scale and pace.

So part of my job is to sell opportunities in our city to major investors from home and abroad.

In addition to major overseas deals, earlier this year we sold the first ever Brummie Bond to Midlands-based Phoenix Life, raising £45 million that we will be able to use to significantly boost our housing investment plans.

The interest rate is lower than that charged by the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB), which means we will pay £1.4 million less in interest over the course of the loan than would have been the case had it borrowed from the PWLB.

So the numbers stack up. But this was about more than £45 million. It was a clear vote of confidence in Birmingham City Council by the private sector.

With council budgets facing relentless austerity cuts, we must be more imaginative in identifying ways to generate funding.

This council will not raise the white flag of surrender. We’ll go out to the market and sell the huge potential of investing in homes for a young, growing population.

Later this month we will launch our new housing strategy – an action plan that will look at everything from major developments to self-build opportunities.

We’ll look at housing options for first-time buyers through to choices for older citizens.

We’ll renew our efforts to tackle homelessness and build on our successful work to bring empty properties back into use.

One thing is clear. There is no one-size fits all solution to meeting our housing demands.

BUT we have the creative approach, the partnerships and the sheer bloody determination in Birmingham to get the job done.

As I said at the beginning, the Grenfell tragedy served as a reminder that how we meet the housing challenge is one of the most pressing tasks for town halls up and down the country.

Future generations will judge us by how we respond and I know there is a collective determination across local government that we will not be found wanting.

The simple fact is that we cannot afford to fail.

New small business loan fund for Birmingham

ART Business Loans (ART) has joined forces with Birmingham City Council, ThinCats peer lending platform and Unity Trust bank to create a loan fund for small to medium sized businesses (SMEs) in Birmingham that are unable to obtain any or all of the finance they need from high street banks.  The new Birmingham Small Business Loan Fund (BSBLF) is aiming to lend £3m to Birmingham businesses over three years.

Among the first to take advantage of the new fund are: hi-tech company Synapse, based at Innovation Birmingham Campus, which offers a range of software products to help businesses to operate more efficiently; KMP Marine, based in Hockley, which specialises in the design and manufacture of safety critical products for the marine and automotive industries; and Newey & Bloomer, based in Ward End, manufacturer of the luxury Simplex copper kettle since 1903.

“We’re here to support enterprise and local jobs,” says Steve Walker, Chief Executive of ART.  “Our average loan size is £35,000, a sum which it is particularly challenging for businesses to access elsewhere, but which can be vital to support cashflow, replace or repair equipment and enable growth.”

Businesses operating in Birmingham can borrow between £10,000 and £100,000 from the new BSBLF via ART.  Loans can be used for any business purpose and are available to all market sectors, including retail.  Repayment terms are from six months to four years and there is no penalty for early repayment.

Birmingham City Council leader John Clancy says: “Once known as the city of a thousand trades, Birmingham continues to be a vibrant centre for entrepreneurs who are prepared to work hard, strike out on their own, and get businesses off the ground.

“These risk-takers are hugely important to the city economy, creating jobs and wealth.  Given the right support, they can help us create inclusive growth across Birmingham, so I’m delighted that we’re able to support our SMEs through the Birmingham Small Business Loan Fund.”

ART has lent over £21 million since its launch in June 1997, helping hundreds of small firms across the West Midlands to grow and create thousands of jobs.

Brian Donnelly, Managing Director of Synapse, says: “I have sunk my own capital into the business, had various grants and the maximum in loans from the bank, but ART and the Birmingham Small Business Loan Fund has been crucial in helping us to generate sufficient capital to bring a new product to market, creating growth and stability for the business.”

Read more about ART’s borrowers, including Synapse, on ART’s website

To enquire about a loan call ART on 0121 359 2444.