'Gleaming heart in decaying body': Birmingham: David Nicholson Lord on conflicts in the city's regeneration strategy

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MANY CITIES are embarking on marketing or 'renaissance' strategies to reverse their decline, the report says. Birmingham, which came bottom of the quality of life league table of 38 British cities, is a good example of the conflicts that can arise when a local authority focuses on prestige projects as the route to regeneration.

Over the past 10 years, it says, a long-term city centre design strategy had aimed to give Birmingham the status of a European 'second city' and the council has invested heavily in the arts and culture as a way of boosting civic pride and improving the quality of life.

Buildings have been cleaned and refurbished and there has been massive investment in conference, sports and cultural facilities.

However, many critics say the 'gleaming heart' is surrounded by a decaying body; 37 per cent of the city's population are dependent on state benefits, 31 per cent of those in the nine innermost council wards are unemployed and the city's schools have been described as 'in an absolutely shocking state'.

The report says there is now widespread recognition that money has been diverted from basic services to prestige projects. The Labour-led city council has been accused of precisely the same sins as the non-elected urban development corporations, despite the council's commitment to close consultation with citizens.

'Moreover there is apparently little evidence to show that the gamble has paid off in benefit to the local economy - the 'trickle- down' effect seems as illusive in the context of new style municipal socialism as in the private sector, property-led regeneration. Strong leadership has certainly had an impact on the outward face of Birmingham but it has yet to do as much for the quality of life of its ordinary citizens.'

(Photograph omitted)

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