Eastside is receiving unprecedented investment, undergoing a vast building scheme and will house the proposed terminus for High Speed Two (HS2). We speak to some of its inhabitants and investors to find out how this once unknown part of the city is shaping up
Little over a decade ago, very few Brummies would have known where ‘Eastside’ even was. Much of the area, nestled between Digbeth and Aston University, was effectively cut off from the rest of the city centre by a raised dual carriageway. Accessible only via dodgy and crime ridden underpasses, with old industrial units, disused car parks and a few tired pubs, the area had little to commend itself. But since then city planners have been slowly reconnecting the area with the city centre. The underpasses are gone and Eastside (one of seven city ‘quarters’) has become a destination of unrivalled investment and redevelopment.
”I think it took real vision from the city’s leaders to make the decision to demolish the concrete collar that cut-off Eastside from the rest of the city centre. It’s had a transformative effect and paved the way for massive redevelopment since,” says John Moffat, development director at property firm Nikal. His company has been instrumental in the area’s redevelopment, having already created The Masshouse development, which features the Hive, a £30m residential development that opened in March 2011. Nikal has recently gained approval for a Masshouse phase two and has plans to attract both businesses and high net-worth individuals into Eastside. “It’s an unprecedented opportunity for Birmingham’s city centre to expand, and by doing so to greatly improve the interconnectivity and growth of the city as a whole.”
Eastside’s earliest new arrivals was the £114m Millennium Point, which opened in 2001. To be sure, the centre, like so many of New Labour’s millennium projects, got off to a difficult start. It wasn’t well received, attracted bad reviews and was isolated to the point of abandonment, amidst a vast building site. However, over the past decade its relevance has grown, Brummies have started to show it more love and with new partners and neighbours it has now has stronger role in the city. Its current CEO Philip Singleton says the centre, which houses Birmingham Science Museum, a 3D cinema and faculties for Birmingham City University (BCU), is profitable, attracting a steady flow of footfall and poised for growth. “We are now into our second decade, with ambitious plans to build up our reputation for delivering interesting and fascinating insights to how we will play, work, live and move in the future. The fact that we are linked to Thinktank – the Science Museum and BCU’s expanding faculties all helps reinforce that,” Singleton says.
With property prices in London beyond the reach of many, investors and developers are on the look-out for new locations to put their money into. Jane Schofield, managing director of Hotel La Tour, which opened a four-star hotel in the district last year, says Eastside’s proximity to the city centre and key communications make it very attractive. “Some might say we’ve been particularly courageous to go ahead with such an ambitious development in difficult economic times,” she says. “But we believe there are great opportunities here. The whole area has great communication links and we’re a stone’s throw from New Street and Moor Street stations, excellently located for all the major Birmingham attractions, including the NEC and the airport.” Schofield says Eastside is still in its early development but believes it has enormous potential. “Eastside has the potential to have a great impact on Birmingham, to emerge as one of the city’s reputed “quarters”. I believe it will be known for its great hospitality, creative industries, as well as science and learning.”
The final building block of Eastside will surely by the arrival of the High Speed 2, which will pull into Curzon Street station for the first time in 2026. The new line will cut travel times to London down to 50 minutes and the second phase will connect Birmingham to Leeds and Manchester. The line would create regular footfall into Eastside and bring it to the attention of a new set of well-heeled consumers. Schofield is enthusiastic about the development, as are Moffat and Singleton, but says it’s not crucial to Eastside. “We’re finding that a lot of Eastside talk is around HS2 – the proposed terminal building would be right outside our front door. There is no doubt that HS2 is a big issue but a decision on it is still some years hence. We acquired this plot of land prior to the whole HS2 debate so, if and when it goes ahead, it will be a bonus to us rather than a development we are relying on.”