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As a Town Planner, I’ve been fortunate in my career to work on a number of large-scale developments, both in terms of developing the vision for new places and working on the detailed design of proposals with a long-term view. A key component of this requires developing flexible projects that are long lasting and easily adapted to respond to both expected and unexpected changes in the future. When working on residential-led developments that may take 10 to 15 years to be completed, it’s important that proposals limit overly prescriptive details of later stages to enable them to be responsive to future requirements.
In my opinion, the biggest benefit to the West Midlands from the planned events has to be the significant investment in infrastructure and the built environment that the region is currently experiencing. In particular, a number of planned transport projects have secured funding and had their delivery accelerated. This has facilitated further investment in new homes and employment opportunities on site across the region. The region will also benefit from new and improved sporting facilities such as the new aquatics centre in Sandwell and the upgraded Alexander Stadium.
COVID-19 has so far only had a limited impact on the events, with City of Culture now due to start a few months later than originally planned and the Commonwealth Games put back by one day to accommodate the World Championships. While it is difficult to predict the longer-term impacts of COVID-19, it's clear that the Government are keen to invest in new developments as part of their strategy for addressing the impacts of the pandemic. I expect that hosting both of these events will ensure that the West Midlands is at the front of Ministers’ minds when they are making future funding decisions.
In terms of legacy, one key lesson that is apparent from past events is ensuring that the facilities put in place are designed with their long-term post-event use in mind. There are numerous examples of facilities being put in place for major events which have then proven difficult to adapt to alternative uses afterwards. It's clear that lessons have been taken to heart through looking at the proposals for the Athletes’ Village in Perry Barr which has been designed to provide much needed new homes after the Commonwealth Games have taken place.
HS2 has the potential to be transformational for the region through spearheading further investment in improving connectivity across the West Midlands. Whilst a lot of the criticism has been focused on the reduced journey times to London, less attention has been paid to the significant benefits in terms of reducing journey times across the region, facilitated by reopening closed railway lines and the installation of new metro routes. Again, as with the investment into infrastructure for the Commonwealth Games and City of Culture, this is unlocking further investment in sites that will benefit from the improved local transport network across the region.