Eastside city park

CABE’s enablers helped Birmingham City Council run an international design competition for a city centre park.

Birmingham's city centre lacks a signature city park. A new park was envisaged as a key driver in the regeneration of Eastside. The city's ambition was to create a sustainable park for the 21st century which would double the open space in the city centre and connect to the canal network.

How CABE's enablers helped this project

  • undertook background research and administration
  • facilitated discussion groups at a symposium with stakeholders and experts
  • attended project briefings
  • advised on procurement
  • ensured the planning and project management of the competition was on track
  • advised on funding of management and maintenance
  • highlighted areas for consideration in the development of the brief
  • ensured the competition attracted the best designers.


Eastside is a major regeneration project that will see Birmingham city centre grow 170 hectares over ten years. It contributes to the aim of the 1987 city centre strategy to extend the city centre from 80 hectares to 800 hectares.

A city park was central to the Eastside vision and has influenced private sector decisions to invest in the area. Forecasts from 2005 anticipated the creation of 12,000 new jobs and over £3bn investment.

The 3.2 hectare site for the city park occupies an 800m wide linear strip which incorporates the existing green space of Park Street gardens. At the eastern end it touches the Digbeth Branch canal, which has considerable nature conservation interest, and connects to the wider canal network.

The site is currently crossed and bounded by a number of highways. The park design had to develop within an ˜evolving resolution of transportation issues'. It is a prime route within Eastside itself and connects the wider network of streets, squares and other routes.

Enabling process

In March 2004 CABE enablers facilitated discussion groups at a symposium with over two hundred stakeholders and experts. These produced preliminary recommendations on the role, nature and delivery of the park.

The client felt that having an independent external organisation involved was useful with persuading elected members of benefits and keeping a watching brief on the process. CABE's involvement at the start of the process gave credibility and expertise as we were able to signpost the team to relevant examples and documents.

The idea for an international design competition emerged. CABE enabler Dan Bone was appointed to attend project briefings, procurement meetings and project planning sessions as well as undertaking background research. Another CABE enabler, Jon Blasby, worked on models for procurement and funding of management and maintenance.

Developing the brief

An external consultant was appointed to develop the brief with information from both the symposium and council documents. CABE helped by informing discussion and highlighting areas for consideration.

CABE's enabler advised that more specific language be used in the brief. He ensured that the appointment included both the design stage and implementation.

Organising the design competition

CABE's lead enabler convinced the council that the ambition for the park demanded an international jury which would encourage only the best designers to apply. The competition included a commitment to build the winning scheme.

Our enablers advised on best practice in the procurement and process of holding design competitions. One key recommendation was appointing an external project manager to manage the competition process.

Running the competition

The first stage of the competition short-listed eleven design teams. The second stage involved six teams producing an inspirational concept design which both met the design brief and was deliverable.

The concept design was used to select the winning team (Patel Taylor). It created seven themed segments including a hothouse, performing arts zone and a series of streams, jets and watercourses running through to the canal.

The competition took over a year to organise which was twice the time the lead enabler thought reasonable. He felt that it was important that the council ran the competition themselves in order to retain ownership of the process and commit to a design-led approach to regeneration.

Taking the project forward

Phase One of the park was completed in April 2005 as a temporary events space. From early 2005 work progressed rapidly as part of a proposed joint venture collaboration between the city council and Advantage West Midlands (the regional development agency).

In May 2007 the Eastside team submitted a bid for £25 million as part of the Big Lottery Fund's Living Landmarks competition. In October 2007 this bid for Lottery funding did not make the final shortlist and alternative funding strategies are now being explored. The council has committed £5m to kick start development.

Lessons learned

The competition's winning design may not be realised in full but it has provided a high profile for the park project and visualised many aspects of the stakeholder consultation. There needs to be a robust strategy for funding implementation (and subsequent management and maintenance) as well as a strategy for the vision and design stages.

The council feel better equipped as a result of the competition and do not feel they need to call on CABE's enablers to find future funding.

The steering group chair, late Councillor Ken Hardeman, wrote to CABE that:

˜I would like to thank you for your incredible hard work and commitment in running the¦ competition¦ and bringing it to a successful conclusion. Your professionalism, organisation and determination throughout the whole process was such a huge contribution to its success'

Project team

  • Philip Singleton - Birmingham City Council
  • Barbara Hathaway - Birmingham City Council
  • Patel Taylor - lead architect / designer of winning scheme
  • Dan Bone - CABE enabler
  • Jon Blasby - CABE enabler