Canals provide channel for Midlands' renewal
Christian Wolmar looks at the transformation of Birmingham's waterfront
Thursday 13 July 1995
As part of the scheme, Birmingham is to get a World Waterways Centre, showing the history and development of canals. There are also plans to use canal frontages as the centrepieces of development schemes and to boost the number of visitors. Mr Henderson will say that the plan marks "the dawn of a new era for the canals, a renaissance that will transform the liabilities of the past into assets for the future".
Indeed, until relatively recently, the canals have been allowed to decay, with British Waterways patching them up only enough to ensure they did not cause flooding. This is the first time canals, which had a hey-day of barely 50 years, are to be used as the centrepiece of a wider regeneration strategy.
Birmingham's spin doctors like to say that there are more canals in the city than in Venice - 32 miles as against 28 - but one suspects this is an optimistic interpretation of the statistics. While gondoliers will never serenade along the Gas Street Basin, the development there and in nearby Brindleyplace illustrate just how much can be done with a little imagination and money.
Out of what 10 years ago was an abandoned stretch of dead water, its plant and fish life killed off by industrial waste such as copper and zinc, a thriving waterside scene has emerged. On Sundays there are so many visitors the tow-paths become blocked.
These projects near Birmingham's city centre began a decade ago with the improvement of the tow-paths and the opening of several pubs and restaurants at Gas Street. But the half-built Brindleyplace is a different scale of development - 17 acres bounded on two sides by the canal, with investment of pounds 250m planned by 1999 including a million square feet of offices, an aquarium and a hotel.
The Water's Edge centre, part of the development which boasts a host of eateries ranging from a Japanese restaurant to chains such as Cafe Rouge, and Pizza Express, has become an immeditate success since opening earlier this year and is designed to make the best use of the waterfront.
Alan Chatham, the director of Brindleyplace, explains the advantage of being next to the canal. "Not only does it create a very attractive environment, but it also solves the problem of what to do with the back door of a development. It creates a natural boundary." Brindleyplace has been helped by the fact that just over the canal bridge there is a new pounds 180m International Convention Centre and Symphony Hall and just up the canal is the National Indoor Arena, home of Gladiators.
British Waterways hopes to increase the number of visits to the region's canals from the present annual 39 million by 20 per cent, indirectly creating 600 jobs.
But barely a mile down the Grand Union canal, in Digbeth, there is a more typical canalside scene. The tow-path is overgrown, an abandoned factory trolley lies on its side in the murky water and a half-submerged supermarket trolley glistens in the sunlight. Regenerating industrial wastelands like Digbeth's and the many others in the region's 500 miles of canals poses a tougher challenge.
Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way
Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat
Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down
- 1 Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery reports: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
- 2 Salisbury ranked seventh-best city in the world to visit in Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015
- 3 Disney announces new female-led film Moana
- 4 Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
- 5 Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Australian jihadist Abdullah Elmir vows Isis will fight 'until black flag is on the top of Buckingham Palace'
Renee Zellweger on plastic surgery reports: 'I'm living a fulfilling life and I'm thrilled that perhaps it shows'
Chicago voter tells Obama 'don't touch my girlfriend' – Obama stays super smooth
Oscar Pistorius: The brutal prison life that awaits disgraced athlete
Banksy not arrested: Internet duped by fake report claiming artist's identity revealed
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
London bus driver 'kicks gay couple off for kissing'
Jose Manuel Barroso warns David Cameron against making 'historic mistake' over immigration reforms
£30000 - £38000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Data Analyst - Lon...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + competitive OTE: SThree: Progressive in Manchester...
£20000 - £22000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chel...
£8 - £9 per hour: Randstad Education Chester: We are currently recruiting for ...