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The £2B Birmingham Levelling Up Plan: 4 Things Property Needs To Know

Birmingham Tram

Those who ask, get. Those who don’t, don’t.

This piece of homely Black Country wisdom will have been in the minds of the leaders of the West Midlands Combined Authority when they decided to bid for £2B of government infrastructure spending.

The appointment of Michael Gove as the new Secretary of State for Levelling Up sends a signal that the government intends to spend in the regions. But £2B is a big ask, and there will be other regions that also have a claim on the government’s levelling-up funds.

If successful, the region’s application to the Government’s City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement fund and Bus Service Improvement Plan fund will be topped up with local money. The combined total of £2B will take five years to accumulate.

These are the four bid proposals with the most significant property industry impacts.

1. Hagley Road

Plans include £280M toward improvements to the existing West Midlands Metro network and for the design and detailed planning work required for the next series of extensions from Wednesbury to Walsall and from Brierley Hill to Stourbridge. 

But the big property wins will be trams along Hagley Road, bringing Edgbaston firmly back into the loop. In the short term, digging up one of the main routes into Birmingham city centre can only cause disruption, as some angry locals have been quick to point out.

2. Midlands Hub

The development of a detailed business case for the super-ambitious Midlands Rail Hub project could open the door to a large-scale expansion of the Birmingham travel-to-work area, with big gains for both commercial and residential development in the no-longer-distant suburbs and surrounding towns.

The project was awarded £20M in the March 2020 budget to develop the scheme to outline business case, and the latest bid takes things a stage further. 

The Midlands Hub involves tweaking the rail network to improve links across the region between Leicester, Nottingham, Coventry, Derby, Hereford and Worcester, improve services to Wales and the South West and allow more people to access HS2. It opens the door to 6 million more rail journeys each year, creating space for up to 24 extra passenger trains an hour and reduce journey times. It amounts to a massive boost to Birmingham’s regional reach.

Plans outline a programme of new and upgraded infrastructure that will be implemented in phases between now and 2033.

3. Snow Hill 

Excitement will also focus on the reopening of the Sutton Park line and developing plans for the expansion of Snow Hill and Moor Street stations. 

The strategic outline business case for the Snow Hill station regeneration has long been in preparation. There has been work on a collaboration agreement between Birmingham City Council and Network Rail.

The Livery Street multi-storey car park, difficult to access and unmodernised, is built over part of the station concourse, with the remainder of the plot exposed. Both suggest the prospect of development over the platforms and approaching tracks. Today the station underperforms as an economic driver.

The Snow Hill regeneration will build on Midland Connect’s ambitions to increase traffic through Snow Hill. Its July 2019 strategy document envisaged reinstating the fourth platform at Snow Hill station to allow additional services to call and terminate at the station, opening up space at Moor Street. The indicative cost was £20M to £30M.

4. Very Light Rail

Also included in the bid is the Very Light Rail scheme in Coventry city centre, which is designed to offer the benefits of trams with lower development costs.

Trials of Coventry’s £6B Very Light Rail system have been taking place at Long Marston, Warwick and at the new £28M Very Light Rail National Innovation Centre in Dudley.

The proposals involve vehicles running on concrete track-slabs inserted into road surfaces. The lower weight means the project needs less-expensive track and less relocation of under-road pipes and utilities, keeping the cost down to £10M/km, relatively low for a rail project.

The first line runs from Coventry railway station to the hospital via the city centre and was originally slated to open in 2021. That now seems wildly optimistic. According to the original plans, a second line heading to the University of Warwick and linking to major commercial and residential districts and the HS2 station at Birmingham International would follow in 2023-24.