Birmingham tunnels: 'A plaster on a festering wound'

View from the bridge over the St Chad's Tunnel The tunnels were built as part of the inner ring road in the 1960s and 1970s

Related Stories

Work is starting on Birmingham's Queensway and St Chad's tunnels, closing them completely for six weeks.

City council officials say the structural repairs, new lighting and fire safety measures are essential to make sure they last for the years to come.

For others it is a bleak confirmation the tunnels are here to stay.

"In a way, it feels like just rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic," said urban designer Nick Corbett.

"I can understand why they're doing it - they look horrible, they carry tens of thousands of cars each day and they need to be reasonably attractive - but I don't think they're the best thing for the long term.

"Carrying out this work is like putting a plaster patch on a festering wound."


The tunnels first made their mark on Birmingham and contributed to the city's "concrete collar" when the inner ring road was built during the 1960s and 1970s.

Start Quote

Nick Corbett

At present we've got the worst of all worlds”

End Quote Nick Corbett Urban designer

The landmarks which sit on the A38 between Spaghetti Junction and the city centre have remained virtually untouched during that time.

Last year, the Birmingham Mail reported engineering consultants Atkins were commissioned by the council to come up with ideas of what to do with the tunnels in the long term.

The newspaper said engineers came up with three options: demolish the St Chad's tunnel and slightly extend the Queensway tunnel at the cost of £85m; join the two tunnels to create a continuous tunnel from Lancaster Circus to Suffolk Street for £64m; or the third option of sprucing up the tunnels as they are at the moment.

Council leaders opted to go with the third option - at least for the time being - which will mean the tunnels are shut for six weeks this summer, plus overnight for the following fortnight.

The cost of that option is included in the city council's 25-year £2.7bn contract with Amey to maintain Birmingham's roads, footpaths, bridges, tunnels, street lighting and traffic control systems. Amey has not said exactly what proportion of that is being spent on the tunnels.

The city council said the work on the tunnels was essential and had needed to be done quickly.

1980s gloom

But Mr Corbett said it would have been in the city's best interests to come up with a long-term view of what could happen to the tunnels before spending any money on a revamp.

"At present we've got the worst of all worlds," said Mr Corbett, an urban designer at Sutton Coldfield-based company Transforming Cities.

Sign showing the plans for the inner ring road Mr Corbett said Victorian Birmingham had been "sacrificed to the concrete collar of the ring road"

"By not having one continuous tunnel, you have a gap you can do nothing with and it makes it very difficult for pedestrians to cross over to the other side of the ring road.

"It means you split the city centre in two and makes it almost impossible for people to walk from the Colmore business district to the Jewellery Quarter."

In 1988, some of the world's greatest architects and designers met in Birmingham to come up with something called the Highbury Initiative to help pull the city out of its economic gloom.

It was felt that in the recession, and following the demise of many of the city's car manufacturers, Birmingham had to reinvent itself and become a place people would want to visit.

Plans included turning the traffic island in front of the Council House into a pedestrianised public square and creating Centenary Square and Brindley Place.

"We need something like that again and to look at the long-term, not just solutions for the here and now," Mr Corbett said.

"We have to look at whether it would be best to just have one long tunnel and create more public squares on top of that."

'View over the A38'

But redeveloping Birmingham would be much more complicated and costly than just dealing with the concrete tunnels, said Dr Nicole Metje, a civil engineering expert at the University of Birmingham.

"The problem is not the tunnels per se," she said.

"If you want a city that focuses on the experience for pedestrians, just looking at the tunnels won't solve the problem. There are lots of other major roads and the only way you get round that is by putting everything underground.

Tunnels closure

Lorry and car going through one of the tunnels

"For instance, if you want to walk from the Bullring to the Mailbox, you have to cross several roads, walk under an underpass and if you decide to sit outside a cafe on your way over, you'd probably sit next to a busy road and have a view over the A38.

"Birmingham was a city built to accommodate the car and it's not easy to get away from that."

City council leader Sir Albert Bore has said he would not rule out looking at more radical changes to the tunnels in the future,

However, the authority said it was currently just focused on the next weeks' work and "keeping the city running".

"In this age of austerity, every pound spent on Birmingham's roads needs looking at and we need to examine how it helps the city to become a more pleasant place," said Mr Corbett.

"But if that question had been asked in the 1960s, the tunnels and the ring road would never have been built and Birmingham would still have a beautiful Victorian city centre, all of which was sacrificed to the concrete collar of the ring road."

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

BBC Birmingham & Black Country



Min. Night 8 °C

BBC Local Live

    West Brom v Crystal Palace 17:32: Richard Wilford BBC WM Sport

    After jousting well with Manchester United on Monday night, Alan Irvine's West Brom need to show the same sort of form when Crystal Palace come to the Hawthorns.

    The Baggies should have England keeper Ben Foster back, and they have one of the Premier League's most in-form strikers in Saido Berahino.

    Live coverage of the Baggies v Palace is on BBC WM's DAB digital service in the Black Country tomorrow from 15:00.

    Blues v Bournemouth 17:25:

    Birmingham City begin life after Lee Clark as they host free-scoring Bournemouth at St Andrew's.

    Caretaker bosses Malcolm Crosby and Richard Beale will be in charge again, with the new man in charge likely to be announced next week.

    Full match commentary on Blues v Bournemouth is on BBC WM's DAB digital service in Birmingham.

    'New breed of Brummie' 17:24:

    The Metro newspaper gives 11 reasons Birmingham is the best place to stuff your face in the UK.

    Men sought after heroin seized 17:21:

    Three men are being sought after heroin with an estimated street value of £16m was seized in the West Midlands.

    The men being sought

    The drugs were concealed within metal lathes and shipped to London Gateway Port from Pakistan, then delivered to an industrial unit in Oldbury.

    Seven men, six from the West Midlands and one from Surrey, have been arrested since the unit was raided on 5 July.

    Tax-raising powers for Birmingham? 17:19: Patrick Burns Political editor, Midlands

    This weekend's Sunday Politics Midlands from 11.00 on BBC One will be examining the latest developments in the debate about "re-empowering our great cities", as David Cameron put it.

    The RSA City Growth Commission has named Birmingham on a list of 15 major cities right across the UK which should be given sweeping new tax-raising powers and more scope to make their own spending decisions.

    We'll be talking about devolution in the wake of the Scottish Referendum. You can also read more on this on my blog.

    Feedback 17:16: Stephanie Barnard BBC Local Live

    What do you think of BBC Local Live? We'd like your feedback about this service, which we write here in Birmingham.

    Drink-driver jailed for student death 17:14: Tom Richardson BBC News Online

    A drink-driver who knocked down and killed a student while speeding along Birmingham's Broad Street has been jailed for five years.

    Fahid Saber

    Fahid Saber (pictured), aged 22, travelled at speeds up to 52mph when his VW Polo hit Wolverhampton University student Joseph O'Reilly, Birmingham Crown Court was told.

    Saber admitted causing death by dangerous driving at a hearing last month.

    Coach crash driver to be charged 17:10:

    The driver of a coach carrying Black Country children that crashed on the M5, is to be charged with driving without due care and attention.

    The coach after the crash
    'Blue sky and rainbows' 17:01:

    Helen Carver tweets: @bbcwm @BhamUpdates what's everyone going on about...flash floods!Blue sky and rainbows in the Royal town!! #sutton

    Rainbow in Sutton Coldfield
    News on the hour 16:55: BBC WM

    In the 17:00 news bulletin: A Birmingham woman's been banned from having any contact with animals for 15 years after a dog was found at her house unable to stand, emaciated and bleeding.

    Flooded roads 16:52:

    Here's the main roads BBC Travel says are currently flooded:

    • M5 entry slip road at J3, for the A456 (Halesowen)
    • B4551 Grange Hill, in Hunnington, Worcestershire
    • A456 Hagley Road, Bearwood, near King's Head Cross
    • A4034 Bromford Road, Oldbury, near the Fountain Lane junction
    Hagley Road floods 16:40: Birmingham Updates

    tweets: Travel Update - Flash flooding on Hagley Road (out of city) near the Barnsley Road junction. AVOID!

    Flood on Hagley Road
    Flood in Kingstanding 16:38: BBC WM

    There's flash flooding across the region this evening.

    Flooding in Kingstanding

    This was the scene on Kings Road, in Kingstanding, at 16:15, courtesy of Alan Walsh.

    Major problems on roads 16:36:

    There's severe delays on the M6 through the West Midlands at the moment, reports BBC Travel, with a closure in both directions between J6 and J7 due to an accident and a lane shut southbound at J8 because of another crash.

    And a lane is closed on the M5 entry slip road at J3, Halesowen, because of flooding.

    A number of A-roads are also affected by flash flooding.

    Flooding in Oldbury 16:27:

    Travel Tom tweets: Flooding in #Oldbury on A4034 Bromford Road is slowing traffic at Fountain Lane under bridge (via @MasterMonkeyMon)

    Flooding under bridge
    M6 closed due to accident 16:22:

    The M6 is closed and there's stationary traffic in both directions between J6 A38(M), for the Aston Expressway, and J7, at the A34 (Great Barr), because of an accident, says BBC Travel.

    Business picking up for independents 16:17: BBC WM

    Independent traders in Stourbridge say business is picking up again as shoppers come out in support of local firms.

    The chamber of commerce said investment in the town had also helped to improve the fortunes of independent high street shops.

    Localised flooding warning 16:12:

    Drivers are warned to be aware of localised flooding after heavy showers across the region.

    Central Motorway Policing Group warns of standing water on main roads and motorways around Birmingham.

    'Warnings' over inmate's condition 16:08:

    Lawyers for the family of a man who hanged himself in prison say he was not monitored closely enough, despite several warnings.

    Mohammed Naveed Zaber

    Mohammed Naveed Zaber's (pictured) family said he had harmed himself with shards from a broken TV and had drunk washing-up liquid in the run-up to his death.

    They further alleged the 26-year-old had previously been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and had sought medical help, but had not received it.

    News on the hour 15:55: Alice Rosenthal Journalist, BBC WM

    Firefighters in England are to strike for four days from 31 October in row over pensions, their union says.

    Hear more on this story in the news at 16:00 on BBC WM.

    Man jailed for Broad Street death 15:52: Birmingham Updates

    A man has been sentenced to five years' imprisonment after causing the death of student on Broad Street last December.

    Weekend forecast 15:40: Rebecca Wood BBC Weather

    After a drizzly start this morning things have brightened up a little in some areas this afternoon. Clear spells overnight mean it will be a little cooler than it has been lately.

    Weekend weather round-up

    But a dry and bright start is forecast for Saturday, although a keen breeze will freshen things up. There'll be a little more cloud about on Sunday.

    Prison team failed to monitor inmate 15:33: Tom Richardson BBC News Online

    An inquest has found a prison's mental health team failed to properly monitor an inmate with "serious" mental illnesses who hanged himself.

    Mohammed Naveed Zaber, from Birmingham, displayed various warning signs in the run-up to his death on 25 March last year, including smashing a TV and using it to harm himself, his family's solicitor said.

    HMP Stoke Heath prisoner Mr Zaber had a history of mental health problems, but the inquest jury found the In-Reach team, which deals with vulnerable prisoners, failed to access his full medical history.

    Historic former pub fails to sell 15:24: Birmingham Post

    A historic Birmingham pub which has lain empty and derelict for seven years has failed to sell at auction.

    M6 accident 15:09:

    The M6 is blocked northbound between J6 A38(M) Aston Expressway and J7, A34 (Great Barr) because of an accident, BBC Travel reports.

    News on the hour 14:58: Alice Rosenthal Journalist, BBC WM

    A retired priest has been cleared of indecently assaulting a young girl.

    Father Edward Simpson of Olton Friary, Solihul was acquitted of indecently touching the girl during the mid-1980s.

    Hear more on the BBC WM news bulletin shortly.

    Walsall have fully fit squad 14:48:

    BBC WM Sport tweets: #Walsall manager Dean Smith says he has a fully-fit squad for tomorrow's home game against Chesterfield. @bbcwm@WFCOfficial

    Autumn ramble in the hills 14:41:

    The National Trust is running an autumn colour ramble around the Clent Hills on Sunday, says BBC Things To Do.

    The six-mile walk starts at 10:00 and is expected to finish at about 15:00.

    Chip shop 'fly infestation' 14:18: Chris Blakemore News editor, BBC WM

    A Walsall takeaway's been closed after environmental health officers found swarms of flies, filthy conditions and evidence of rats.

    Chipmasters in Walsall

    Chipmasters, in Lower Hall Lane, has been given a hygiene emergency prohibition notice.

    It's the fourth business in Walsall to be closed in a fortnight because of environmental health issues.

    Leeds v Birmingham 14:05: Richard Wilford BBC WM Sport

    Kenny Jackett and Wolves moved up into the top four of the Championship with their fine midweek win over in-form Middlesbrough - now they hit the road to Leeds looking for a first away win in five matches.

    Championship league table on 24 October 2014

    Jackett has shored the defence up since surrendering a 3-0 lead at Millwall last week, Tuesday's clean sheet was very welcome.

    You can hear the whole match live from Elland Road on BBC WM 95.6FM from 15:00 tomorrow.

    News on the hour 13:55: BBC WM

    In the 14:00 news bulletin: As a report says violence in British jails is out of control, the justice secretary has told BBC WM there'll always be a culture of violence inside our prisons.

    Multi-storey car park plan 13:40: Royal Sutton Coldfield Observer

    Plans to build a multi-storey car park at Good Hope Hospital have been announced as concerns by members of the public were raised at a meeting to discuss proposed hospital changes.

    More on ambulance crash 13:23:

    BBC News Online has more on the three people taken to hospital after an ambulance on an emergency call was in a crash with a car in Birmingham.

    Wrong name on VC hero sign 13:08: Black Country Bugle

    A mix-up over a West Bromwich road sign in honour of the town's only Victoria Cross winner left the council addressing a difficult problem with the residents.

    News on the hour 12:56: BBC WM

    In the 13:00 news bulletin: Three people have been taken to hospital after they were involved in a crash between a car and ambulance in Birmingham this morning.

    'Welcome to city' stickers put up 12:46: Express and Star

    Road signs directing traffic towards Wolverhampton TOWN centre have finally been updated 14 years after it became a city - with a set of cheap cut-out stickers.

    Coming up on TV 12:35: Amy Cole Reporter, Midlands Today

    At lunchtime, we're looking at how almost 100 former MG Rover workers are finally getting a pension payout, almost 10 years after the company crashed.

    Longbridge protest in Birmingham city centre in the 1990s

    About £8m is being set aside for the workers after a deal was struck between the Pensions Regulator and the former Longbridge firm MGR Capital Ltd.

    We'll have more from our business correspondent Peter Plisner at Longbridge at 13:30 on BBC One.

    Shark moved to Birmingham 12:25:

    A shark has been transported more than 120 miles across England in a bid to encourage him to breed.

    Male nurse shark Albi and female nurse shark Florence Nightingale

    Albi, a two metre-long (6ft) nurse shark, was taken from the National Sea Life Centre Blackpool to the attraction's sister site in Birmingham.

    Landmark to get £1.3m makeover 12:10: Dudley News

    A Dudley landmark is to get a £1.3m makeover which will include the refurbishment of a famous fountain's waterworks.

    News on the hour 11:57: Kevin Pashby Newsreader BBC WM

    A street in the Black Country is getting a new road sign - thanks to a campaign started on BBC WM

    Edwin Phillips Drive

    It's all to do with commemorating a soldier from West Bromwich who won the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour.

    Hear more on this story in the news at 12:00 on BBC WM.

    Student accommodation set for go-ahead 11:37: Birmingham Post

    Proposals for even more student accommodation in Selly Oak look set to be given the green light by city planners next week.

    Passengers cut free from car 11:22:

    Ward End Fire tweets a photo of a car being cut open to remove two passengers, following the crash with an ambulance earlier this morning.

    Fire crew at crash in Yardley
    Car and ambulance crash 11:05:

    Three people have been taken to hospital after a crash involving an ambulance and a car in Yardley this morning.

    West Midlands Ambulance Service says the two passengers in the car had to be cut free before being taken to hospital. One crew member was treated at the scene for a shoulder injury.

    The collision happened in Station Road at about 08:20 while the ambulance had its sirens on responding to an emergency call.

    News on the hour 10:56: BBC WM

    In the 11:00 news bulletin: As a report says violence in British jails is out of control, the justice secretary has told BBC WM there'll always be a culture of violence inside our prisons.

    Other workers 'still waiting for payout' 10:34: BBC WM

    Ninety five former Rover workers are getting their pension payout, almost a decade after the car maker collapsed.

    £8m is being set aside for the senior workers. Richard Burden, Labour MP for Northfield, says while it's good news for some, other ex-employees are still waiting for money from former owners the Pheonix Four.

    Sex assault picture appeal 10:16:

    Police have released photos of a man they want to speak after a woman was sexually assaulted in Birmingham.

    CCTV stills

    The 28-year-old victim was followed along Soho Road in Handsworth and attacked after heading on to Alfred Road shortly after midnight on 19 September.

    Manhunt after heroin seized 10:05: Birmingham Mail
    News on the hour 09:55: BBC WM

    In the 10:00 news bulletin: The justice secretary has told BBC WM there will always be culture of violence in prisons.

    Disabled graduates: Life after university 09:40: Damon Rose BBC News, Ouch

    This week BBC Ouch is revisiting disabled students who we followed in the last decade. Several years later, how are they doing?

    Sara Krishnan and her son

    They include Sara Krishan (pictured), aged 29, who lives in Birmingham.

    Have your say 09:28: Stephanie Barnard BBC Local Live

    We've introduced BBC Local Live to bring you news, sport, travel and weather updates in one place. We'd like to know what you think.

    West Brom linked with winger 09:17:

    Today's BBC Sport football gossip column features speculation West Bromwich Albion are interested in Bournemouth winger Matt Ritchie.

    Prisons 'will always have violent culture' 09:05: BBC WM

    Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has told BBC WM there will always be culture of violence in prisons.

    Pete Morgan interviewing Justice Secretary Chris Grayling

    It comes as a report says violence in British jails is out of control and they are unsafe, ineffective institutions.

    News on the hour 08:55: Kevin Pashby Newsreader BBC WM

    A report has named Birmingham Prison as the most overcrowded in the region. I'll have more on this in my 09:00 bulletin.

    Chief exec pay criticism 08:41: BBC WM

    Dudley Council has defended plans to pay its new chief executive £8,000 a year more than her predecessor.

    The move, which coincides with the authority having to make £117m worth of budget cuts, has been criticised by the Taxpayers' Alliance.

    MG Rover staff get payout 08:31:

    An £8m pension settlement has been reached with some former MG Rover staff, almost a decade after the car firm collapsed.

    Factory floor

    About 6,000 workers lost their jobs when the Birmingham-based company entered administration in 2005, but the Pension Regulator said a deal had now been reached with 95 former staff, mainly managers.

    Weather outlook 08:21:

    It will be cloudy with heavy rain this morning, but brighter conditions are expected later with highs of 14C (57F). Get your local forecast.

    Delays after accident 08:10:

    A lane is closed on the M6 northbound between J10 and J10a following an accident, reports our travel news team.

    Welcome 08:00:

    Good morning everyone and welcome to Friday's news, sport, travel and weather updates for Birmingham and the Black Country.



Elsewhere on the BBC

  • BeesSweet medicine

    Why are sick bees being prescribed honey? BBC Earth investigates


  • The smartphone that answers backClick Watch

    Smartphones get smarter – the prototypes that talk and say ouch when you drop them

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.