01Policy priority 1: Continue the turnaround of Birmingham and Coventry city centres, to support their roles as centres of knowledge-based jobs to improve job opportunities for all West Midlands residents
- Use the convening power of the mayor to help Birmingham city centre get back on its feet. The mayor should launch a ‘Birmingham is open’-style campaign and work with city centre employers to encourage workers back to the city centre when appropriate.
- Continue to focus on city centres in economic development plans. This should include shifting city centre commercial space away from excess retail and industrial uses and towards offices and hospitality and leisure, and encouraging high-value office work to continue to concentrate in city centres.
- Make sure housebuilding keeps pace with demand, and is built where it is needed. The only way for the West Midlands to avoid repeating London’s mistakes on housing is to tackle green belt reform and push for building more homes in the suburbs and green belt.
Birmingham city centre has gone through a process of transformation in recent decades, becoming home to many thousands of high-skilled, high-paid jobs. Meanwhile, more recent focus on Coventry city centre has sought to start the same process there. City centres are likely to continue to play an increasing role in the national economy, and the West Midland’s continued turnaround will depend on the further growth of Birmingham’s as well as Coventry’s city centres.
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a particularly damaging economic impact on city centres, especially the largest ones such as Birmingham’s. Centre for Cities research for Core Cities UK has shown that the dynamism of many of the jobs in Birmingham city centre facilitated homeworking, but this same strength meant that the city centre’s local services jobs, which depend on commuter spending, were hard hit by restrictions. This has had implications for the people they employ.2
The mayor’s longer-term efforts to raise productivity should centre on making its city centres more attractive places to do business. Birmingham city centre is still very small despite its recent resurgence, meaning its ability to create jobs for people across the West Midlands is limited. Meanwhile Coventry continues to have higher than average shares of commercial space given over to retail.3
Part of the solution is for the mayor to advocate for a strategic review of green belt around railway stations. Doing so would open up the potential to build 200,000-260,000 climate-friendly suburban homes in walkable ‘button development’ around railway stations, much of which is less-than-green and not used for public amenity.4 As these stations already have great infrastructure links into Birmingham city centre, releasing them for new homes will minimise carbon emissions and support the further prosperity of the wider city region.