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birminghams economic resurgence a cinematic revival and transport innovation 2544

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Birmingham's Economic Resurgence: A Cinematic Revival and Transport Innovation

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Michael Chen

March 30, 2024 - 07:49 am

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Birmingham Poised to Enter New Era of Economic Revitalization with Film and Infrastructure Development

Hoardings on the perimeter at the HS2 Curzon Street development site in Birmingham. The line will no longer extend to Manchester in the north of England.

In a dramatic turn mirroring its famed television history, Birmingham is set to welcome home the highly anticipated Peaky Blinders motion picture. Tommy Shelby, the infamous character from the British series, established his reign over Birmingham's underbelly in the 1920s. Despite the show's setting, the filming largely took place in other UK cities—Liverpool, Leeds, and Manchester.

"Peaky Blinders" Comes Home to Birmingham

The forthcoming film is set to shift this choice of location, returning to Birmingham, more specifically to Time + Space's brand-new Digbeth Loc studios in Birmingham’s thriving cultural quarter. Piers Read, the lead of Time + Space, expressed the company’s long-standing desire to bring the cinematic creation back to its geographic roots after six televised seasons voyaging across the UK. "It is our wish and dream after six seasons of Peaky Blinders to bring it home, because virtually all the other series have been shot everywhere but Birmingham," Read shares with anticipation.

Birmingham is poised to harness a wave of incoming investments. Earlier this year, the news broke that the BBC would relocate its drama hub to the city, which constitutes the United Kingdom’s second-largest metropolitan area. Moreover, the colossal High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project—with its £100 billion ($126 billion) price tag—promises to infuse Birmingham with a surge of employment opportunities, despite recent limitations on its scope established by the Conservative government the previous year.

For Liam Byrne, the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Hodge Hill located to the city's east, Peaky Blinders' homecoming carries a personal sentiment. With a lineage that traces back five generations in Birmingham to gun-makers, and a connection to the actual Sheldon family after whom the Peaky Blinders were modelled, this homecoming is reflective of his own family's history.

Birmingham's Struggle Against Economic Disparity

Byrne, however, articulates a deeper concern that these influxes of capital might sidestep the city’s impoverished areas—zones with some of the highest childhood poverty statistics in the UK. “Tens of billions of pounds are being spent changing the very economic geography of our country,” he asserts. “And if we can’t ensure that this sorts out the worst unemployment black spot in the country, then frankly that is a failure of politics.”

The Conundrum of Infrastructure Investment

The United Kingdom’s ambition to "level up" its less affluent regions has been throttled by the apparent neglect of vital infrastructure. In their report, the National Infrastructure Commission, an advisory body to the UK government, highlighted that UK's road and rail investment languishes at the bottom within the Group of Seven nations.

Residents in urban centres like Birmingham are burdened with increased commute times and a scarcity of affordable housing options compared to European counterparts. According to an analysis by the National Infrastructure Commission, such infrastructural deficits lead to comparative decreases in productivity.

Reimagining Birmingham's Industrial Legacy

Historically the hub of British metal-working industries, Birmingham’s industrial sector took a severe hit during the economic recessions of the early 1980s. Now, the remnants of its industrial past—numerous brownfield sites— are undergoing transformation into living spaces and centers of commerce.

As the narrative of the city evolves, a fresh influx of high-skilled professions in sectors like film and finance are penetrating the market. This transition owes much to the arrival of prestigious firms such as HSBC, Goldman Sachs, and PwC. However, when benchmarked against competing business districts, Birmingham’s transport infrastructure remains underwhelming. The Centre for Cities think tank underscores how fewer residents can reach the city center within 30 minutes via public transportation when stacked against European cities of similar size.

Paul Swinney, director of policy and research at the Centre for Cities, believes too much of the policy discourse in the past decade has been fixated on inter-city connectivity, overlooking the significant aspect of intra-city commutes.

Advocacy by Liam Byrne for extending the area’s tramline from the city centre, pushing through East Birmingham and into North Solihull, is still in search of funding. Byrne stresses the quintessential role of transportation in linking populations to new job opportunities. “At the moment we’ve got one of the lowest rates of car ownership in the country, and high levels on congestion,” he points out, highlighting the dichotomy between job creation and the means to access them.

Transport and Employment Challenges

The message was echoed by Birmingham Airport's Chief Executive Officer, Nick Barton, who underscored the limited commute options available to airport staff for early morning shifts. "If they don’t drive, they probably don’t work here," Barton explained, underscoring the commuting challenge faced by many workers.

HS2's Promise for Jobs and Growth

The ongoing HS2 rail line project is a beacon of progress for the region, expected to bolster nearly 31,000 jobs within the West Midlands over the forthcoming decade. Despite the controversial cancellation of HS2's northern extensions by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak—a decision that spurned resentment among northern England politicians—the Midland region continues to foresee benefits from the development. In anticipation, the depot earmarked for East Birmingham is projected to employ 550 individuals.

Luke Nipen, who overlooks community and stakeholder engagement at HS2, remarked on the community's active participation both during the construction and the subsequent operational phase aimed at providing sustainable employment opportunities.

Birmingham's Potential in the Entertainment Industry

The team at Digbeth Loc, spearheaded by Read, is optimistic that Birmingham possesses the requisite talent to meet the needs of the new studio. He notes that film industry professionals residing in the Midlands currently commute to north-west England or London for work opportunities. A collaboration between Digbeth Loc and the London Film Academy is underway to kindle a similar establishment in Birmingham, with the goal of nurturing a new generation of producers and directors.

Read envisages the West Midlands as "a huge vast area" brimming with untapped potential. The plethora of undiscovered filming locations awaits exploration by the creative producers, signaling an exciting chapter for Birmingham on the cinematic frontier.

As the city of Birmingham stands on the precipice of economic and cultural rejuvenation spurred by strategic investments in film and infrastructure, the lingering question remains: Will these efforts manage to dissipate the dense fog of unemployment and deprivation that looms over certain quarters of the city? As ambitious projects like HS2 forge ahead, the challenge will be to distribute the windfall equitably, ensuring that progress does not bypass the disadvantaged, but rather uplifts them along in this historical transformation.

For more in-depth analysis and context on economic shifts happening beyond London, explore the insights offered by Goldman Sachs and the burgeoning developments through the city giants (Follow Goldman Sachs Beyond London, Tory Mayor Tells City Giants).

Seeking progress yet cognizant of the looming challenges, Birmingham’s citizens and leaders alike brace for a future that glimmers with opportunity—a future where the very fabric of the city’s economic geography is reknitted, bringing prosperity and equity in its weave. Balancing the scales of urban development and social welfare remains an arduous task, a "failure of politics" that Byrne and his contemporaries are determined to overcome.

As the sound stages at Digbeth Loc await the roll of film reels, and the steely tracks of HS2 promise connectivity and careers, Birmingham earnestly steps into a pivotal era that could redefine its identity and destiny.

The confluence of Hollywood allure with steely resolve in infrastructure positions Birmingham on the marquee of global urban renaissance, one where the spotlight shines not just on the privileged districts but aims to illuminate the overlooked alleyways of the Midlands metropolis.

With special reporting by Kate Duffy, Birmingham's unfolding narrative is meticulously documented, ensuring transparency and clarity for all parties involved. As the UK treads the path of development and cultural procurement, cities like Birmingham prove to be monumental case studies heralding the nation's potential for balanced urban evolution.

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.