Changing City Centre for the Better

Is the PM’s exhortation that people should get back to the office a bit misplaced? Does it focus too much on the financial health of well-known coffee and sandwich shops? 

I’ve got nothing against these businesses but they are a relatively small part of our economy while there are many other jobs and industries requiring support. I wonder why they’re being given such high priority. 

There was evidence of change in our city centres long before the pandemic. More people are shopping online. Clean air measures will undoubtedly reduce car numbers coming into the centre and people are demanding more space for walking, running and cycling. Only last week we saw the launch of a revolutionary, new EScooter plan for the city.  

If these changes are symptomatic of a bigger shift, wouldn’t it make more sense to embrace them and work for necessary changes, so that our city continues to thrive rather than simply exhort workers back to the office in some forlorn march of the sandwich makers? 

Many companies are discovering that there are big savings from employees working at home and are developing future models which will include homeworking, at least part of the time. Last week the Treasury Select Committee heard that the Covid19 guidelines make it impossible to bring lots of people back to city centre offices, there are real problems with large numbers and maintaining social distancing. The head of a well-known PR agency, in Birmingham, said that she simply doesn’t have the space for her whole team. 

I love Birmingham. I love our suburbs; places like Kings Heath, Stirchley, Bournville and many more. I also love our city centre which has been wonderfully transformed since the early 80s. I want to continue to enjoy the galleries and theatres and I want to work hard to keep them open. If that means a changing city centre, one that’s more pedestrian and cycle friendly and with cleaner air, I’m up for it. Not least, because it’s the entrepreneurial flair of our independents, in the suburbs, that are really improving the quality of café culture in Birmingham.  

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