Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Birmingham's Got The John Lewis Factor (At Last!)

Okay, I admit it - I was slightly underwhelmed when the grand plan for the New Street Gateway project was finally unveiled. As a Brummie, I was all too aware of the poor first impression the station gives to those who visit our fabulous city and I was hoping that its transformation would be just a little more far reaching.

Perhaps I had hoped this project would follow in the footsteps of some of the major regeneration schemes in the city, such as The Mailbox, the Bullring (a project very close to our hearts!) and Brindleyplace. Many of these projects have changed our city's skyline and have given us some truly iconic buildings and destinations. Surely this wasn't too much to ask for from the New Street station transformation we had waited so long for?

Then the John Lewis announcement was made and this cheered me up - a lot. In fact, I may have opened a bottle of Waitrose Cava to celebrate (try it - it's very good!). Aside from the fact that myself and millions of others just love the whole John Lewis shopping experience, the new £100 million Birmingham store is excellent news for the city.

Clearly, it will bring a welcome boost to our economy, creating around 900 jobs. And there is no denying that the arrival of John Lewis will lift Birmingham's reputation as a major retail destination, helping the city to compete with other retail centres across the Midlands. Importantly, the new store also provides a statement of intent - the redevelopment of New Street is not simply about transforming the train station, it's about the bigger picture and about the wider regeneration of this very central area of our city.

And there are even more reasons to be cheerful. It seems the region is already set to reap wider benefits from 'The John Lewis Factor', with its managing director Andy Street appointed as the first Chair of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). Andy is not only a prominent figure in the business world, but he became a household name after the behind-the-scenes John Lewis documentary, 'Inside John Lewis', aired on the BBC, so his appointment was a real coup for the city.

But dont just take my word for it. When the designs for the store were unveiled at MIPIM, way back in March, Birmingham City Council Leader, Mike Whitby, said: "This development is a real jewel in the new station's innovative design..." - very nicely put! Now, we know the store will be one of the largest outside London at 250,000 sq ft, but although we've seen CGI's of the building, it's difficult to envisage exactly how it will look and how it will fit into our city's ever-changing skyline.

With the store set to open its doors in 2014, I live in hope that there's still time for a landmark building to emerge from the New Street Gateway project. After all, it wasn't until the final hour of the Bullring's renaissance that Future Systems' designs for the Selfridge's store emerged, and I personally can't imagine the Bullring without it. Let's hope someone out there is mulling over a set of daring architects' drawings right now - Mr Street?!


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