Birmingham City Council are currently consulting on a new Design Guide for the city. It aims to create a new supplementary planning document to advise on development across the city. To cover everything from the height of tall buildings in the city centre to the nature of house extensions in the suburbs. To quote them directly:  

Birmingham is witnessing unprecedented levels of investment in both infrastructure and new development, which the City Council wants to ensure deliver high quality places across Birmingham.

To help achieve this, the City Council is to create a new Birmingham Design Guide Supplementary Planning Document (SPD). This will become the primary planning guidance used to assess and guide the design of all new development across the city, from household extensions, to tall buildings in the city centre; ensuring they all deliver high quality proposals.

The Design Guide Vision document is the 1st stage in the creation process, outlining the City Council’s intentions and inviting people to submit comments on want they feel should be within the Design Guide.

These documents and visioning processes can set in motion a direction of travel which is not necessarily shared by all and can become the document used to justify unpopular decisions. A policy to help those who are involved in writing it. To this end I want as many people as possible have their say on it. So that we can shape our city rather than have it shaped for us.

Design is more than just a physical form or visual appearance. Design is way of solving problems and creating opportunities for all of the city. If there is to a design guide we believe it should be driven by design principles, rather than sketches or physical requirements. These principles then need to be applied contextual to create the right developments for our city. These principles will need to focus on what we haven’t done so far in order to inspire the design thinking we need to create a better city. Our current redevelopment model will not create the change that many of our citizens need to see.

True innovation doesn’t come from new building technologies or smart sensor infrastructure, it comes from people being given the chance to fulfil their dreams and ‘what if’ thoughts. The built environment plays a huge role on whether this can happen, whether it’s creating inviting spaces for people to dwell in or provide the right scale of opportunities for new retail, food or manufacturing entrepreneurs. Identikit developments of the scale of Paradise and Brindley Place erode rather than enhance the “Birmingham ID” and their design language should be avoided and resisted not replicated.

We believe that any Design guide should serve the purpose of ensuring all developers and investors know the vision, culture and unique character of our city, and be a bold statement of the future we wish to build and distill the spirit of how our city will develop. Here are a few principles we feel it should be embody but the more people who add to this the richer, more vibrant and reflective of the city it could be. Please add your comments to the consultation here.  

  1. Birmingham is an active travel first environment, supporting development which contributes to this and questioning those which are car centric.
  2. We want to promote community land trusts and  collective self procurement for housing development, whilst actively growing the community led and citizen sector housing base. We should be setting ourselves bold targets for the percentage of housing that is community and citizen led for example.
  3. We want to actively promote and invest in community energy networks and the number of community developed energy assets.
  4. We want to actively promote housing stock improvements, through extension, refurbishment and energy efficiency improvements. So that the existing built environments improves as well as new additions.
  5. Whilst we recognise the need of large corporate retail and workspaces. This needs to be grown in tandem with a strong, local independent and community economy which has been the hallmark of Birmingham’s revival. We want to actively promote, invest and see the growth of space for independent retail.
  6. No private open space. If Birmingham is to be an open city we need to resist the creep of private open spaces in our city. The city is a public good and all open spaces should be public goods too.
  7. We actively recognise the role of artists in driving the creativity and culture of Birmingham, seek to bring in a minimum 1% of all capital spend for art, in the formation of a new arts trust for Birmingham.
  8. We require all development appraisals and feasibility studies to published in the open.
  9. We will require all developments with publicly held land to adhere to the Social Value Act.
  10. All major development designs will be peer reviewed in the open prior to formal planning consent.
  11. We will create a register of ‘Architects for Birmingham’ who have agreed to uphold the public interest in their design process and are open to public challenge and debate, giving preference to them in those developments involving public land.
  12. We will actively promote, invest in and drive preference to Birmingham being made, designed and imagined by people who represent it’s gender, racial, cultural, economic, physical and neuro diversity.
  13. We will actively promote new and emerging designers and professionals to be involved in this exciting era of development for Birmingham, actively inviting them to be part of reshaping Birmingham.
  14. We will work to create the regulatory space to experiment in fully digitising and opening up planning policy, licensing and consultation processes fit for a developing city.

These are a small sample of ideas, they are just a start to what some of us believe could form a broader more inclusive design guide for the city, please share your ideas. We actively encourage everyone to participate in the consultation and sign up to be kept up to date about City Camp Birmingham, where we aim to hack a civic design guide for the city here.