What is Eastside?

Eastside is an area in the east of Birmingham city centre core in England currently under going a major redevelopment project. The overall cost when completed is expected to be £6-8 billion over a period of ten years which will result in the creation of 12,000 jobs. 8,000 jobs are expected to be created during the construction period.

Excavations revealed that the area was used as farmland in the Medieval times. Archaeological excavations at the City Park Gate site revealed soil that had been used on farms. It is known that a significant area had been bought by the English monarchy and was used as a deer game park. Some of this area stretched into the Eastside of Birmingham. The only surviving part of this is Park Street Gardens. The land was sold and slowly began to develop once again as farm land.

During the Industrial Revolution, the area was home to a massive complex of factories and workshops and was accessed by part of the canal network, most notably the Digbeth Branch Canal which bisects the area. The Grand Union Canal is located along the boundaries of the area and meets the Digbeth Branch Canal at Warwick Bar. In the late 1800s, the area was accessed by a major tram network which ran along Albert Street. However, as the industry in the area subsided, the area fell into decline and many of the original factory buildings became derelict. The old Victorian factory buildings were never maintained and the canals became dirty and clogged with only small stretches being cleaned. Small independent businesses moved into the area. A major brewery was located near Curzon Street Station and this resulted in the establishment of a public house further down the road which currently exists as a Grade II listed building.

The River Rea, which remains largely hidden due to high brick walls surrounding it constructed in Victorian times, also flows to the extreme east of the area. The river is crossed at Deritend Bridge.

Curzon Street railway station was a major railway station during the 1800s and served as a goods station with another terminus opposite. Unfortunately, it was located too far from the city centre and it was not successful. It failed as a passenger station and shut down in 1966 as a goods station.

Bartholomew Row received its name from Saint Bartholomew Church, which was built next to it. The church was surrounded by Park Street Gardens which were significantly cut down in size due to surrounding development. Part of the grave yard of the church still remains.

In 1983, Aston Science Park was opened in the north part of Eastside. The 22 acre site has continued to develop and is considered a key part of the Eastside regeneration scheme.

In the late 1990s, plans for the regeneration of the area were aired to the public. The first plan unveiled was called the 1996 Digbeth Millennium Quarter Plan which presented proposals for the area around Digbeth and parts of Eastside. The 1998 Bull Ring and Markets Quarter Plan contained guidance to the Digbeth and Deritend area. Large scale projects which involved the renovation, demolition and reparation of the area started to be aired to the public. The first of these projects to be completed was Millennium Point which was completed in 2002 to replace the Birmingham Science Museum. On February 1, 2002, a masterplan for the Eastside was developed by HOK International and this set out the basic developments.

In 2001, the entire Eastside area was split into five sub-areas:

* Aston Triangle
* Curzon Street
* Fazeley Street
* Masshouse
* Rea Village

Construction begins
The first part of the plan to be implemented was the demolition of a large elevated road junction called Masshouse Circus and the Inner Ring Road to clear land for development. This was part of a larger plan to remove sections of the Inner Ring Road. Masshouse Circus had restricted development out of the east of the city due to its proximity and size resulting in it receiving the name “concrete collar”. A bid for money from the European Regional Development Fund was successful and this allowed the demolition of Masshouse Circus possible. This area is now being developed with the construction of highrise apartment and office blocks with one block complete and another under construction. Other buildings completed in the area include the New Technology Institute, completed in 2006, and also the refurbishment of Island House into a base for a redevelopment company. Matthew Boulton College also built a new major facility in 2005 and overlooks the Masshouse site. Both Matthew Boulton College and the New Technology Institute were the first buildings to be built on what will be the Learning and Leisure Zone.

Digbeth, Deritend and Warwick Bar
Large areas of Digbeth are now also set for redevelopment with the many residential complexes being built and the construction of a new coach station on the Digbeth Coach Station site. The completion of South Birmingham College: Digbeth and the renovation of the Custard Factory also attracted interest to the area economically with the opening of a Cadillac automobile showroom in the area in early 2006, despite the council naming the area as a media quarter. The Custard Factory is again set for an expansion with the refurbishment of the adjacent Devonshire House being approved by Birmingham City Council in August 2007.

Deritend is also expected to witness a vast amount of redevelopment. A large number of low-rise residential schemes have been proposed with several beginning construction in 2005 and 2006. Deritend Bridge (so called because of its location near a bridge which crossed the River Rea called Deritend Bridge) was a large residential development planned for the area. It received outline planning consent however the land was then sold by the developers to another company. The site is now set to be developed into a large mixed-use scheme named Connaught Square by the Naus Group.  The development in Deritend extends towards the Bordesley area which is outside the Eastside boundaries.

An area alongside Fazeley Street in Digbeth named Warwick Bar, has become the focus of redevelopment itself with the construction of new modern buildings and a restoration project of an old Victorian storage facility. Proposals are also being planned for the area including a little known project known as “The Needle”. Its location is not known according to a developments document issued however it would most likely be at Warwick Bar.

Curzon projects
The majority of the development is centred around Curzon Street railway station and along Curzon Street which gives its name to two developments to the rear of the station which began with the demolition of a Parcel Force Depot. This will be called Curzon Park and will feature a major low to mid-rise mixed-use scheme with residential, leisure and hotel facilities. An outline planning application was submitted by the developers on July 27, 2007.

This development is separated from a development behind it by the Digbeth Branch Canal. This smaller development is called Curzon Gate which will include a twelve and an eleven storey tower block containing private and student dwellings which will be located on the former Castle Cement silos site. Initial sketches of Curzon Gate showed a 25 storey tower however this was not included in the planning application.  Curzon Gate was deferred on October 12, 2006 due to Section 106 payments and is currently under construction.

Eastside City Park
Next to this is one of the largest of the projects which will see large areas of land being transformed into a city park. This will be called City Park and will cover eight acres. The area it will occupy is currently the car park for Millennium Point and also small workshops and a Spanish-themed eatery.  It will also incorporate an already existing park named Park Street Gardens which contains a burial ground and was once part of a large deer park. Small areas of land such as the plot to the east of Millennium Point have been under the interest of development companies. The land next to Millennium Point was the centre of local attention from the media when it was revealed that a development company was to submit a planning application for the creation of a 175 metre tall vertical theme park called The Pinnacle or Pinnacle Tower. The planning application is yet to be submitted.  The land was originally intended for the Ventureast development however it was agreed to be sold to the developer in 2006.

29 entries were submitted from the UK and abroad and the companies were required to create a presentation and be interviewed about their intentions for the city park. The six final entries to the international design competition, were released by Birmingham City Council in October 2006. Leaflets were placed around Birmingham allowing the public to vote for their favourite design. Architects who submitted entries were Broadway Malyan, Camlin Lonsdale, Gillespies LLP, Gross Max, Gustafson Porter and Patel Taylor.

Other projects
The area beyond the city park to the eastern boundary of Eastside is to be developed in a development named Ventureast. This will be a technology-led park area with many-low rise buildings.

Another area of land next to Moor Street railway station which was freed up by the demolition of Masshouse Circus will be home to a development named City Park Gate. Originally designed by Richard Rogers as part of the scheme for the Library of Birmingham, it was to have several residential towers however the architects pulled out when the library scheme was shelved. MAKE Architects have since been appointed. Island House and the nearby pub will be retained in the development however Eurodiscount Megastore, a large warehouse store, was demolished in November 2006. The development will be mainly residential and will form a gateway into the Eastside from the city centre. Phase 1 will be the phase covering the largest area and has a subphase known as Phase 1a which includes Island House. This will be the first phase to begin construction and will also include the subphase, Phase 2a. Phase 2 will begin construction after and this is the smallest phase. Phase 3 will be constructed last and will see the tallest building constructed. Two public squares will be created, one directly in front of Island House will be called Island Place, and the second will be between Phase 2a and Phase 2 and will be called Freeman Place. There will be numerous green roof gardens. The outline planning application was submitted on November 29, 2006 and a consultation process began in late December and ended January 3, 2007.

It is most likely that an observation tower for the public will be constructed in the Eastside area as it was one of the main ideas for it. Originally, there was a proposal named “The Needle” which would be of a substantial height however this was dismissed as a vision.  A serious proposal was put forward in September 2007 with the unveiling of VTP200. A public consultation regarding the latest design for the observation tower was announced before a complete planning application is submitted to the planning department at the city council. The proposed VTP200 would be a 200 metre tall “VerTiPlex”, the tallest observation tower in Britain, has been designed by RTKL to be a “bold and dynamic icon for Birmingham and the West Midlands in the 21st Century”. The tower would consist of three rides including an eight-person vertical drop free falling lift, a see-saw peering over the edge of the tower at 125 meters high and 20 flight trainers spinning around the tower 110 meters up it. As well as rides other extreme activities are proposed including a “Walk of fear”, the ability to climb to the top of the tower, a sky jump descending 100 metres and the UK’s highest controlled bungee jump. In its first year the VTP200 would hope to receive 1.05 million visitors.

Major student housing is being constructed opposite the Ventureast development on the other side of Jennens Road. This is most likely to be targeted at Aston University which owns land next to it. The complex, named Etna House, is 13 storeys in height and is to be developed by the Watkin Jones Group. Demolition work for the site is underway.

Cancelled projects
Plans by the City Council to locate the Library of Birmingham at Eastside were abandoned in favour of developing the new library on a shared site with the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, in Centenary Square in the city centre’s Westside, retaining the library in the city’s civic core. Birmingham City University is now interested in the cancelled Eastside library site to relocate its conservatoire which is currently adjacent to Birmingham Central Library. Another project was the refurbishment of the Curzon Street railway station which would make it the home of the Royal College of Organists. However, a £1 million gap of funds resulted in them abandoning the project. Birmingham City Council are now planning to renovate the building themselves and then search for a major tenant.

Nearby projects
One development set to start in late 2008 is the Martineau Galleries complex which will see the demolition of the Carling Academy and surrounding shops plus a multi-storey car park. These will be replaced by a 110 metre tall tower and other mid rise and low rise apartment blocks as well as offices, hotel facilities, retail and cultural facilities.

There was a proposal for a new station to be built in the Eastside to relieve the stress from New Street station. The station, dubbed “Grand Central Station”, was to be nearly twice the size of New Street and would handle all major railway lines. However, the proposal was called unnecessary and take up too much room. The proposal was headed and urged by Arup who created a brochure outlining the reasons why such a station would be needed.

“Sustainable Eastside”
“Sustainable Eastside – A Vision for the Future”, published in 2002, sets out the aspirations for the sustainable regeneration of Eastside. The Eastside Sustainability Advisory Group was also set up in 2002 to support the mainstreaming of sustainable development in Eastside. As a result, Birmingham City Council agreed to undertake the innovative step of co-locating sustainability advisors with the Eastside team. The Sustainability Advisors are employed by Groundwork Birmingham and Solihull and took up their posts in October 2003.

The ‘Sustainable Eastside’ project is funded by Government Office for the West Midlands, Advantage West Midlands and the East Birmingham and North Solihull Regeneration Zone, with additional support from the Environment Agency and Birmingham City Council. The Eastside Sustainability Advisory Group aims to promote a comprehensive vision of Eastside as a regional demonstrator of sustainable development in practice, and to provide advice on Sustainable Development best practice throughout the Eastside development.

Group membership consists representatives of 17 organisations (mainly NGOs such as the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham and the Black Country) and individuals with professional interest in Eastside. In 2002, the Eastside Sustainability Advisory Group collectively produced a document ‘Sustainable Eastside – A Vision for the Future’, which lays out a vision for how Eastside can be socially, environmentally and economically successful and responsible. This was funded by Birmingham City Council’s Environmental Services department.

The project continues to develop guidance, policy and procedure recommendations. These will be submitted to Birmingham City Council to consider for adoption within their planning guidance and advice to the public. Policy and decision makers will be targeted to raise awareness of sustainability and ensure relevant information is made available.
Arts and culture
Since 2006, Eastside has hosted a number of events as part of ArtsFest. In 2006, The Eastside Arts Picnic was held at Curzon Street Station and the Eastside Green opposite. Island House hosted a collection of visual art pieces known as the ArtsFest Art Gallery and outside the building was the showcase for Vibrant Fibre, which consisted of murals. In 2007, a sound and light show was held on the site of Curzon Park.

A sound guide was created by Sound Arts Practice Liminal for Warwick Bar in which the public were invited to download the sound palate and walk around the canals.

Curzon Street Station is becoming a centre for arts in the Eastside with exhibitions including a neon light show at the base of the steps leading to the entrance of the building, which took place during June 2007.  Also based in Eastside is Ikon Eastside, a branch of the Ikon Gallery, and VIVID.

GPL Wikimedia – Birmingham Eastside


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3 02 2008
Eastside « Birmingham Eastside

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