DP muses

“now that the renovation of New Street Station is underway, what do we as interested and articulate citizens want from it? I see the contenders have been identified. Would it be remiss to draft a collective letter and post it to each of them, setting out our visions, expectations, and calls for dialogue? Given the less-than-inspiring level of consultation by Birmingham’s development and strategic agencies, perhaps it’s necessary for the interested public to make direct contact with designers.”

Seems like a fine idea, and I’ve already had one notion for the New St.-BIAD linkage. Although a portfolio of individual rather than collective ideas might be somewhat more speedy and less time-intensive. But I’d hope everyone would agree the brief shouldn’t be to make anything like the naff ‘Bromsgrove shopping centre, circa 1974’ image below…


Perhaps some creatives might want to put forward ideas as graphics, instead of in writing? It would be nice to think that the city would fling up a website where the public can download the basic 3D models in digital form, and one page of A4 outlining the main technical limitations in layman’s terms. Let’s hope that Urban Initiatives might offer such resources as part of the consultation on the city-centre masterplan.

Although I suspect there’s not much ‘room to wiggle’ in a complete station exterior re-cladding and atrium for just £30m. The public may get a limited set of choices — should the stick-on re-cladding panels be in off-white or pure-white, if we’ll have bucket or flat seating, and how long the dangly-sparkly ‘arty-mobiles’ hanging in the atrium should be.

Personally the main thing I’d want would be very clean quiet streamlined pedestrian access. From whatever entrance, the less times I have to turn 45-degrees or go up/down steps or hear the roar of a taxi taking off, the better. In many stations the initial sense of the space when you step off a train can be pleasant (Manchester) — but as soon as you get beyond the platforms you’re into clutter, obstacles, weaving a route out through barnacle-like encrustations of pastry-cafes, hooking through a bit of bland muzak-y shopping centre, then channelled out down a long ramp of the tackiest shops (Manchester again, where they seem to go on for miles) onto a street where you’re immediately forced to mix with vehicles.

This general ‘clutter/flow’ problem will be especially important to solve in and around New St., since the extra entrances will surely lead shoppers to use the station as a pedestrian ‘rat-run’ to walk across the city centre. And the extra footfall from that would seem likely to attract burger&chips -joints around the station’s fringes, with consequent ‘chav spill-out’ of the kind we regularly see blocking the New St. ramp in front of McDonalds and that nasty under-ramp pub.

But the main ‘real-world impact’ discussion seems likely to be over the possibility of separating local from intercity passengers, in terms of which trains we’ll be allowed to catch from New St. — since segregation seems the logical outcome of having an airport-style waiting area upstairs and only allowing passengers down to the platform if they have a ticket for a specific train. If the passenger numbers grow by the amounts forecast, the inter-city operators may have no choice but to ban local ‘short-hop’ passengers from inter-city trains.