Port Loop has been, until now, a redundant, unused urban island, encircled by the Birmingham Canal Old Line andthe Birmingham Canal Navigations Main Line just outside of the city centre.
It is one of the UK’s most significant brownfield regeneration schemes which, thanks to the efforts of joint-venture developers Places for People and Urban Splash, is being transformed into a new family-focused waterside neighbourhood.
The Urban Splash and Places for People JV is working in partnership with landowners Canal & River Trust and Birmingham City Council to make the new 43-acre neighbourhood a reality. Working in collaboration they will revitalise this area, using the waterways and the space to create more than 1,150 new homes, as well as commercial workspaces, parks, green spaces and community facilities.
Places for People and Urban Splash have put a new masterplan in place to transform the area into an exciting new neighbourhood which will include a new swimming pool, reinvented existing historical buildings and over 1.5km of new towpaths; creating moorings, cycleways and walkways to the city, and even a waterbus stop. Port Loop plans also include cleaning of the canal waterways which will encourage wildlife to return and flourish, and tree lined streets will enhance the neighbourhood both environmentally and aesthetically.
In addition, the Port Loop masterplan will create and support hundreds of jobs for local people not only during the construction process but ongoing roles in maintenance and the neighbourhood’s workspaces, community and leisure hubs such as cafes and shops.
How does its design contribute to urban life?
The Port Loop masterplan will create an island community, executing a transformative project which will act as a catalyst for even wider regeneration of the Icknield Port Loop area for family city living, all just 15 minutes’ walk from Birmingham city centre. Creative and innovative design are intrinsic, bringing huge benefits to the existing community as well as those attracted to the new development with vibrant new uses for the canals and canal-side spaces and providing a range of modern homes.
An extensive and multifaceted remediation of the site has been underway since the start of the year, including the complex rebuilding of canal walls, clearing and recycling around 60,000 cubic metres of soil and materials and re-engineering the site levels to get it ready for bringing this new neighbourhood to life.
Port Loop will become a brand new community which embraces traditional aspects of the area combined with a whole new urban outlook. It will become a destination for both tourist and working barges, provides play facilities for local children, wildlife corridors to encourage animals to return to their original homes, plus community parks and areas to meet and embrace new offerings. The Port Loop community will be further enhanced by the 100,000 sq ft ‘Tubeworks’ area that has been earmarked as a shared space – a social, community and cultural hub. Uses could include; coffee shop, co-working space, workshops, bakery, micro-brewery, crèche – plus many more. Tubeworks at Port Loop will be the vibrant heart of island life.
What was your process in coming up with the design?
At the core of the Port Loop design is the creation of a new destination for all, whilst providing a variety of new homes, also provides family-friendly facilities that benefit the existing neighbourhoods in the area from day one. Gathering views from as many stakeholders as possible was vital to this approach. Numerous workshops were held during the design process which included assessing and hearing the views of; local residents and businesses, local politicians, BCC officers, the Canals and River Trust, landscape architects, affordable housing needs and sales agents, plus many more.
A vast amount of time was invested into historical research of the site, working alongside a local historian who played a key role within the planning process. History and the environment was at the heart of bringing something new and fresh to the area – an urban neighbourhood embracing its rich tradition. It was imperative the plans also encompassed the canals, for they are the entire reason the island can be created. It was of great importance the canals initial purpose was embraced, and the reintroduction of this is a key aspect of the Port Loop masterplan.
The canals have since been used to deliver materials during the park works. Retaining the historic name ‘Port Loop’ was a result of consultations, and in-turn, providing it with a new and positive brand identity which has been greatly received. Port Loop now has an identity which encompasses its urban vision– it’s a place to live, visit, work and play.
What do you think makes this a place where people will thrive?
Port Loop’s planning approval to deliver a broad mix of uses and blind tenure, when combined, will provide an opportunity for the new and surrounding communities to grow together and embrace the health and wellbeing aspects of a compact and walkable, family-friendly neighbourhood. Investing in infrastructure and public realm - which will not only benefit the Port Loop homeowners but all the existing neighbourhoods – has been a key objective, specifically opening up the connectivity of the canals both within the site and into the city.
A new public park will open in conjunction with the completion of the first phase of housing, and the new homes are designed adjacent to communal green courtyards to encourage interaction and play. Reiterating the importance of the canals – significant investment of time, research and funds has gone into improving a stretch of the historic Birmingham canal network which will open towpaths for pedestrians and cyclists, encourage tourist barges, as well as forming new access points to the canal to aid other leisure facilities, including canoe and paddleboard users. Current plans are underway to transform an existing building into a thriving hub for start-up businesses, cafes, bars and restaurants, plus more exciting ventures. All the planned elements, in addition to improving access to and from Birmingham city centre, will come together to transform the area, and more importantly provide a destination for all and a neighbourhood of the future at Port Loop.