It says a lot about Birmingham’s burgeoning reputation as a place to live, work and invest that – even amidst a growing cost of living crisis and an ongoing global pandemic – I remain confident that this will be a Golden Decade of opportunity for the people and communities across city.
Birmingham’s time has come. And while I accept that we face challenges as we emerge from an incredibly tough few years, we have every reason to be optimistic and upbeat, because our city is undergoing a once in a generation transformation that has the potential to shape the lives of people living and working here for generations to come.
Prior to Covid, Birmingham was seeing growth at almost twice the rate of London, and four times the national average. And, while the pandemic has had a profound impact, both economically and socially, the factors that made Birmingham such an attractive place to live, work and invest in early 2020 remain in place and will now help power our recovery.
In fact, even at a time of such upheaval, we have continued to make progress on a significant number of major projects, which will stimulate growth across the city and there remains a lengthy list of projects that will supercharge our recovery bringing many millions of pounds of investment into the city region.
Take the £1.9 billion Smithfield Development, which has the potential to create over 8,000 new jobs in future years, the £700 million Paradise development, which has re-imagined and revitalised what was a tired city centre area, creating new commercial buildings, public realm and pedestrian connections for the city, linking the newly rebuilt Chamberlain Square and pedestrian street linking to Centenary Square.
Birmingham is a city being reinvented and the current pace of change is breath-taking. In Digbeth, plans are in place for a forty-two-acre development centred round the iconic Custard Factory, that will support the creation of over 16,000 jobs and provide over 1,800 homes alongside shops, restaurants, cafés, and additional leisure facilities. When you throw the Midland Metro extension, BBC relocation and Steven Knight’s proposed film studios into the mix, it’s clear that Digbeth will play a major part in the next exciting chapters of the Birmingham story.
And incredibly, there are even more reasons for optimism. The Commonwealth Games, HS2, Peddimore, Langley, the exciting £700 million+ regeneration of Perry Barr and the planned renewal of Ladywood are additional factors that will shape the lives and life chances of people growing up in Birmingham today.
And that after all is what this Golden Decade must be all about. Success for Birmingham must mean success for the people of Birmingham and together we must challenge deep-seated and long-standing inequalities that continue to blight the lives of far too many of my fellow citizens:
• The rate of unemployment is double the national averag
• There is a decade’s gap in life expectancy between the poorest areas and the most affluent areas.
• And, perhaps most shocking of all, over 40% of Birmingham’s children grow up in relative poverty. We cannot and will not simply accept nearly half of our children growing up in relative poverty in a modern, twenty-first century city.
These and other challenges underline just why Birmingham must be at the very heart of any plan to level up the UK economy, and in response to the Government’s white paper on the matter, we have set out our ambitions to challenge deeply ingrained structural inequalities, addressing poor health, poor educational attainment, low skills and incomes, congestion, and air pollution, while bringing forward new homes, employment sites and community assets.
As I have outlined, Birmingham is a city of huge potential and we’re already taking a lead on levelling up. Projects such as the Commonwealth Games and HS2 are laying the foundations for change, while we’re also investing in public transport, greener housing, and skills.
When I talk about a Golden Decade of Opportunity, this is the real prize I am referring to and we will work in collaboration with partners at local, regional, and national levels to succeed. We will help businesses, investors and developers succeed and we will work with our communities to improve the lives of people who are currently being left behind. We will turn the soundbites of inclusive growth and levelling up into reality and a springboard for even greater success.
Regeneration matters, but we must be clear that shiny new buildings alone will not be enough, and success cannot simply be measured on balance sheets. True success is about people. It is about improving and transforming lives, so we must also create jobs, opportunities, and pathways through to prosperity for every neighbourhood across the city. We must bridge the skills gap and our citizens must be given a stake in everything we achieve as a city if we are going to address the inequalities that for far too long have held people in our neighbourhoods and communities back.
If we succeed – and I am confident that we will – then future generations in Birmingham will look back and say that this truly was our city’s Golden Decade.