How Birmingham is laying the groundwork for the Commonwealth Games
As Birmingham prepares to welcome the Commonwealth Games in 2022 is it on track to deliver a lasting legacy?
When the opening ceremony of the 2022 Commonwealth Games kicks off in Birmingham, the UK’s second city will look rather different to today.
At Perry Bar, the former Birmingham City University campus is being re-developed into a £550 million athletes’ village – and will then be converted into around 1,400 homes afterwards. West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street, describes it as a "once-in-a-generation opportunity" to regenerate the area.
A £60 million aquatic centre has been given the go-ahead in Sandwell to host swimming and diving events before becoming a community leisure facility afterwards.
Local infrastructure is also getting a boost. A new rapid bus network will connect the village and key destinations with other plans to improve rail and tram systems also being brought forward to coincide with the Games.
“What will matter is whether a legacy can be created with tangible benefits to transport, local infrastructure, housing and a long-term increase in visitor numbers,” says Ian Cornock, JLL UK’s Lead Director in the Midlands region.
It’s been forecast the Games could generate £1.5 billion of economic benefit in the 12 months afterwards, according to Roger Mendonca, Chief Operating Officer of the West Midlands Growth Company. It will also raise Birmingham’s profile among the Commonwealth’s population of almost 2.4 billion – with 60 percent aged under 30 - and global coverage has the potential to grow visitor numbers to the city, which hit a record 41.8 million in 2017.
“I think the Games gives us the opportunity to speed up investment and growth,” says Cornock. “It gives us a chance to show what Birmingham is all about and the changes taking place – but it’s vital that we show we can deliver.”
A new era for Birmingham
The Commonwealth Games developments are part of the ongoing regeneration of the city as investment flows in and growing numbers of high-rise towers spring up. In the past year, more than 20 schemes including office blocks, residential buildings and hotels have broken ground.
Much of the transformation is being driven by the forthcoming high speed rail link HS2, which will cut journey times between London and Birmingham to 49 minutes, with the first stage predicted to open in late 2026. A new station is being built for the service.
“We’re already seeing investment on the back of HS2,” says Cornock. “We’re at the centre of the country, so not only will it connect us with London, it will also ensure better links with northern cities.”
Goldman Sachs, for example, is funding a 42-storey residential tower within walking distance of the new HS2 terminal. Meanwhile, banking giant HSBC recently moved its UK headquarters to the city centre and will soon be joined by staff from HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions.
More city centre residential schemes are also appearing as growing numbers of people, especially as Birmingham’s significant proportion of students and young professionals – it has Europe’s largest under-25s population - want to live in the heart of the city.
Key multi-use schemes like Paradise are adding office space, retail, public spaces, a hotel and new restaurants to the mix. Meanwhile, a £750 million makeover of Birmingham New Street rail station has created a fantastic gateway to the city.
While the Games slot in with the wider city regeneration plans, in the lead-up to Birmingham 2022 questions have nevertheless been asked about the costs of hosting the Games and the benefit they will bring.
Just as London 2012 undoubtedly raised the city’s profile and brought thousands of new homes, offices and improved transport, Cornock believes the Commonwealth Games will provide a big boost for Birmingham. “We don’t tend to shout loud enough about what we have to offer,” he says. “How many people know we have five Michelin-starred restaurants in the city?”
However, past global multi-sports games have left mixed legacies. Following the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, a report found visitor numbers were up and planned investment in the city was brought forward yet it questioned whether it had helped increase sports participation.
What's key, says Cornock, is strategic planning to build the kind of collaborative partnerships that focus on the long-term and deliver a sustainable legacy.
“There are lessons for Birmingham in ensuring the city generates the most out of the facilities it builds after the Games,” says Cornock. “Get it right, and we will deliver long-term change.”