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CASE STUDY: LONGBRIDGE, BIRMINGHAM
Longbridge is identified in the West Midlands Regional Spatial and Economic Strategies as a Regional Investment Site and part of a High Technology Corridor. It is a brownfield site that extends over 195 ha, straddling the boundary between Birmingham City Council and Bromsgrove District Council, in Worcestershire. The site includes the former MG Rover factory location, which closed in 2005 with a loss of over 6,000 local jobs. The majority of the site is vacant but Nanjing Automotive Corporation occupies a part of the site.
The development strategy for Longbridge is for a major mixed use development including a new town centre, a regional transportation interchange with 1,000 park and ride spaces, and the creation of at least 10,000 jobs. Longbridge has been designated in the Regional Spatial Strategy as part of the "Central Technology Belt" running from Aston University in Birmingham city centre down the A38 to Malvern. Birmingham CC lead on the project, and Worcestershire CC and Bromsgrove DC have been involved with various statutory processes.
Although Longbridge has yet to be redeveloped, the Area Action Plan reflects integrated land use and transport aspirations, and provides a high-profile example of a challenging urban regeneration project. After an extensive examination, the Longbridge Area Action Plan was being considered for adoption by both councils in April 2009.
Towards Sustainable Travel
The redevelopment of Longbridge presents a major opportunity but also numerous challenges. The scale of the site as well as its proximity to existing public transport infrastructure allow for flexibility and creativity in sustainable design but the scale of the project and location also makes it particularly susceptible to the vagaries of macro economic conditions. This case study focuses on elements of the land use planning and design that are expected to encourage and facilitate sustainable travel within and to/from Longbridge as well as surrounding neighbourhoods.
Brownfield redevelopment in urban areas is generally preferable to new out-of-town development due to the possibilities for integration with existing transport links and to the likelihood of shorter trips to/from the site. A travel demand model was developed to determine the achievable targets for modal shift at Longbridge. As a result, “the target reduction in single occupancy vehicle trips [within the development compared to the surrounding area] is -13%- and -5%- for employment and residential land uses respectively, which would be redistributed to sustainable transport modes.” (Longbridge Travel Demand Model,Bromsgrove District Council).
The Longbridge redevelopment has been motivated by the need to replace lost jobs and to renew the quality of the urban environment for current residents of adjacent neighbourhoods. The proximity of the site to a rail station on a main link to central Birmingham was incidental to the decision to redevelop the site, however is important to the sustainable travel credentials of the redevelopment. The site sits astride the A38 primary route from Bromsgrove into Birmingham and the access points to the major redevelopment are constrained, hence highway improvements are significant. The development is well-situated to be a sub-regional commercial centre based around public transport and will provide opportunities to deliver significant public transport upgrades, including a large park-and-ride facility and a high quality bus link to neighbouring Frankley.
The Longbridge Area Action Plan (LAAP) requires residential densities of 40-60 dwellings per net hectare across the entire redevelopment site, which is higher than the PPS3 national indicative minimum of 30 dwellings per hectare. Moreover, higher densities and a mix of uses will be clustered around Longbridge station (to be improved to the standard of a major public transport interchange) and close to the technology park, while lower density housing will provide a transition to existing housing around the site. Hence differential densities are used, with higher densities around major public transport hubs and the lowest densities still higher than the PPS3 recommended minimum.
The LAAP aims to provide homes for 3,500 new residents (1,450 dwellings) and employment for 10,000 people. Thus, the ratio of jobs to households on site will be approximately 3:1, reflecting that this is an employment-led regeneration development. Longbridge is a Regional Investment Site that will address the acute shortage of jobs in the locality and elsewhere in Birmingham and North Worcester. The site has a good sub-regional public transport link to accommodate expected in-commuting from other parts of Birmingham.
Despite improving jobs-housing balance in the surrounding area, it is unlikely that the skills needed for the new jobs at Longbridge will match the skill sets of current residents. The LAAP is linked to employment training and skills development programmes that intend to alleviate this potential skills gap. In addition, the redevelopment will provide a range of housing types, including 35% affordable (depending on economic conditions), that will help to accommodate different types of workers.
The complexity and evolving nature of the labour market is such that jobs-housing balance is a necessary but not sufficient condition for sustainable travel. Local jobs may reduce distance travelled by current residents but the overall travel outcome of the expected increase in jobs at Longbridge remains uncertain.
The location of key facilities such that they are accessible by sustainable modes is a key component of integrating planning with transport. The Longbridge plan includes leisure, health and education facilities intended to serve the wider area. These are to be located near Longbridge station and will also be linked by foot, cycle and bus to the nearby neighbourhoods of Frankley, Cofton and Great Park. Thus, these facilities will provide an accessible focal point for the development and the surrounding neighbourhoods.
One third of the redevelopment area is in Worcestershire and it is expected that the development of the new regional site with significant new leisure, education and retail facilities will generate travel to Longbridge from residential areas across north Worcestershire. This has contributed to the development of a strategy for improving bus and rail services from north Worcestershire to Longbridge to influence modal choice by meeting certain accessibility criteria. This has been done to satisfy the policies of increasing accessibility in Worcestershire's Local Transport Plan. The improvements planned to bus services in north Worcestershire follow the recommendations in the County's Integrated Passenger Transport Strategy and there are also improvements planned to the walking, cycle and rail network.
As stated in the LAAP (p6), “A final essential component […] is centred upon creating a real heart and focus for the new development. […] This will be done through the creation of a local centre which will provide a major new educational facility, a range of new retail outlets, a mix of commercial, leisure, cultural and community uses and a new public transport interchange. Not only will this help the overall development to provide for its own needs and help support self sufficiency, it will also provide for the needs of a wider catchment thereby offering improved choice.”
Greater land use mixing can reduce the number of trips people make by allowing for linked trips and to make streetscapes more pleasant for walking and cycling. Longbridge has designated areas for lower and higher degrees of land use mixing depending on the nature of employment (i.e. manufacturing vs. small enterprise) and the location relative to public transport. The area with the greatest land use mix including housing, retail and employment centres, at relatively high density, is oriented around Longbridge station. The LAAP encourages a mix of uses within buildings as well as within streets.
Delivering a major regeneration project such as Longbridge is a challenge that is dependent to a large extent on changing macro economic circumstances. The LAAP allows some flexibility, with renegotiation allowed if it can be shown that the targets cannot be delivered under the prevailing economic situation, with provision for recovery of developer contributions when the economic situation improves. Negotiations between developers and the local authorities over section 106 agreements and the separate Longbridge infrastructure tariff are ongoing.