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 0 °C

BBC Local Live

    17:14: Four burned in pay kiosk blast Birmingham Mail

    A fireball caused by a fan heater led to a Birmingham petrol station closing its doors this afternoon.

    17:05: 'I no longer feel safe' Clare Lissaman BBC News Online

    Read more on BBC News about an appeal to find a Commonwealth Games gold medal stolen from heptathlete Kelly Sotherton's home in Sutton Coldfield.

    Detectives believe burglars may have been trying to get the keys of a new Audi which was on the driveway, but the sportswoman had taken the keys upstairs, police said.

    Sotherton said she and her family no longer felt safe at home, adding: "Considering they came for something else and left with something that took years to earn is upsetting."

    16:55: News on the hour BBC WM

    In the 17:00 news bulletin: Two men have been sentenced to five years in jail for scamming elderly people in the Black Country out of thousands of pounds.

    They were from a roof coating company that overcharged people for what they claimed was a special thermal paint used by Nasa.

    16:41: Roof scam pair jailed Amy Cole Reporter, Midlands Today

    Alan Wilson, of Tamworth, and Christopher Wilkes, of Solihull, have both been given a five-year jail sentence for fraudulent trading.

    It follows an eight-week trial at Wolverhampton Crown Court. The pair faced 15 counts of fraud between them after their firm Therma Seal fraudulently sold roof coating to more than 2,000 people.

    16:27: Galleries get Arts Council funding Stephanie Barnard BBC Local Live

    Wolverhampton Art Gallery and Birmingham Museums Trust are among nine museums in the Midlands to be awarded more than £3m by the Arts Council.

    The Birmingham trust has been awarded £123,662 and Wolverhampton Art Gallery has been given £107,390.

    16:16: Feedback

    What do you think of BBC Local Live? We'd like your feedback about this service.

    15:56: News on the hour BBC WM

    In the 16:00 news bulletin: Two men have been sentenced to five years in jail for scamming elderly people in the Black Country out of thousands of pounds.

    15:38: Oldest fan 'overwhelmed'

    West Bromwich Albion's oldest fan says he was overwhelmed after being guest of honour to watch their Premier League victory over Southampton at the weekend.

    Jack Jones with West Brom player Darren Fletcher

    Jack Jones, 107, was invited to the game by the club after they saw him feature on Midlands Today.

    He was presented with a special shirt and a ball signed by players by captain Darren Fletcher (pictured). Watch the moment here.

    You can see more on Midlands Today at 18:30 on BBC One.

    15:26: Crimewatch appeal to trace gold medal

    An appeal will be made on the BBC's Crimewatch programme tonight to find a Commonwealth gold medal stolen from the home of heptathlete Kelly Sotherton.

    Kelly Sotherton and Commonwealth gold medal which was stolen

    The gold, won at the 2006 Melbourne games, was stolen from the home of the athlete in Sutton Coldfield between 17 and 18 February, along with a further 15 medals.

    15:11: V Building site plans set for go ahead Birmingham Post

    Plans for a 23-storey tower where the "V Building" was once mooted are set to be approved despite conservation groups claiming they "harm" Alpha Tower.

    14:57: News on the hour BBC WM

    Two rogue traders have been jailed for five years for conning pensioners in the Black Country out of thousands of pounds.

    We'll have more on this story in our 15:00 news.

    14:50: Four hurt in petrol station fire in Ladywood

    Four people have been taken to hospital after suffering burns during a fire at a petrol station in Birmingham.


    The blaze happened at the BP garage on Spring Hill, Ladywood, about 11:00 GMT.

    The petrol pumps were not involved in the fire, the fire service said.

    14:40: Residents invited to help improve estate Dudley News

    A Brierley Hill tenants and residents association wants to get more people involved with helping to improve the estate.

    14:28: GPs warn of potential crisis Inside Out

    GPs in the Midlands are warning of a potential crisis - as practices are struggling to recruit enough doctors to treat a growing number of patients.

    Doctors surgery signpost

    Tonight's Inside Out programme will feature two villages where local surgeries shut down on the same day.

    The Royal College of GPs predicts the Midlands will need at least 50% more doctors by 2020.

    14:14: Hiwula loan extended BBC WM Sport

    Jordy Hiwula is staying Walsall for a further month on loan from Manchester City.

    Jordy Hiwula

    Last month the striker told us he believed his spell at the League One club would help him develop into a better player.

    13:56: News on the hour Chris Blakemore News editor, BBC WM

    Coming up in the news at 14:00 on BBC WM: Two rogue traders have been jailed for five years for conning pensioners in the Black Country out of thousands of pounds.

    Shortly we'll hear from Chris King, from Trading Standards in Dudley.

    13:43: Fire started by fan heater Clare Lissaman BBC News Online

    The fire at a petrol station in Ladywood was started by a fan heater, causing an aerosol canister containing lighter fluid to explode, West Midlands Fire Service said.

    The incident happened in a storage area attached to the garage shop.

    13:32: BBC One this lunchtime Joanne Malin Presenter

    On Midlands Today this lunchtime: Medical practices are struggling to get the doctors they need to treat patients.

    And watch how a 107-year-old football supporter was honoured by his club.

    13:21: Walsall man arrested over assault

    A man has been arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm following a serious attack outside a nightclub in Leeds city centre.

    Image of man police want to question

    A 23-year-old man from Wakefield was attacked by two men outside Club Mission at about 03:30 on Sunday.

    Police arrested a 23-year-old man after he attended a police station in Walsall on Sunday night. Officers want to speak to a second man about the incident (pictured).

    13:07: Explosion at BP petrol station Birmingham Updates

    Four people injured after an explosion at BP petrol station on Spring Hill.

    12:53: News on the hour Chris Blakemore News editor, BBC WM

    Coming up in the news at 13:00 on BBC WM: Housing benefits in Walsall are being cut back as part of budget savings for 2015.

    Plus, we'll have more details of the fire which started at a petrol station in Ladywood this morning.

    12:46: BP petrol station fire Stephanie Barnard BBC Local Live

    This is the petrol station involved in a blaze this morning, taken from Google Street View.

    Petrol station

    If you're near the scene - and it's safe and legal to do so - email or tweet your photos.

    12:38: Four suffered burns Stephanie Barnard BBC Local Live

    Three men and one woman were injured and have been taken to hospital with burns thought to be between 3% and 15%.

    The fire service says the blaze is now out and the petrol pumps weren't affected.

    Firefighters remain at the scene, after receiving an emergency call out at about 11:00.

    12:31: Breaking News Stephanie Barnard BBC Local Live

    Four people have been taken to hospital after a fire at a petrol station in Ladywood Spring Hill.

    West Midlands Fire Service says the blaze started in a store room and some canisters containing lighter fuel exploded.

    12:29: Road closed in Winson Green BBC Travel

    The A457 Dudley Road is closed in both directions in Winson Green due to an explosion at a nearby factory.

    12:28: Fire at petrol station Express and Star

    BREAKING NEWS: #Dudley Road in Winson Green is closed in both directions, due a fire at a petrol station. Three reportedly injured

    12:11: Madonna in the Midlands Stephanie Barnard BBC Local Live

    Madonna is coming to Birmingham later this year.

    Madonna at The Brit awards

    Birmingham's Barclaycard Arena are preparing to roll out the red carpet for the so-called Queen of Pop who'll be coming in December as part of her Rebel Heart tour.

    No word yet on whether there'll be any capes involved as part of this tour following last week's fiasco at The Brit awards.

    11:57: News on the hour Steve Hermon Journalist, BBC WM

    Coming up in the news at 12:00 on BBC WM: Two rogue traders have been jailed for five years for conning pensioners in the Black Country out of thousands of pounds.

    11:42: New police recruits

    West Midlands Police tweets: The 82 new recruits will join operational teams across the force to deal with real issues 24 hours a day. Read more:

    11:30: Major delays on M42 Birmingham Mail

    Early-morning commuters near Birmingham faced major delays following a six-car smash on the M42.

    The pile-up occurred just before 7am on the southbound stretch between junctions nine for Coleshill and eight for the M6 Toll.

    11:20: Medal theft to feature on Crimewatch

    The theft of a Commonwealth Games gold medal belonging to athlete Kelly Sotherton is set to feature on BBC Crimewatch.

    Kelly Sotherton (centre)

    The former heptathlete and 400m runner and her family were asleep when the burglary took place in Sutton Coldfield overnight on 17 February.

    The burglars also took nine AAA British medals, about six Island Games medals and other items including a computer.

    11:09: Snow and ice warning

    Met Office warnings tweets: Yellow Warning of Snow and Ice for West Midlands : Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent, T...

    10:58: News on the hour BBC WM

    Coming up in the news at 11:00 on BBC WM: The theft of Kelly Sotherton's Commonwealth gold medal from her home in Sutton Coldfield will feature in an appeal on Crimewatch tonight.

    10:44: Have your say 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 find out what you think of the service.

    10:27: Brands you love and hate BBC Business

    Marks & Spencer, Cadbury and Heinz have all taken a dip in consumers' affections, according to the annual Consumer Superbrands survey.


    British Airways topped the survey, while messing with the Creme Egg hurt Cadbury. What say you, readers? Which brands do you love - or love to hate?

    10:12: Shocking toll of bed blocking Express and Star

    Ten thousand days were lost to bed blockers in West Midland hospitals in just one month, the Express & Star can today reveal.

    09:54: News on the hour Steve Hermon Journalist, BBC WM

    In the news at 10:00 on BBC WM: A survey has found the majority of GPs are planning to retire early, partly because of the workload.

    Shortly we'll hear from a Kings Norton GP who says surgeries are dealing with 350 million appointments a year in England.

    09:49: Leak caused by hole in canal bed

    A leak in a canal in Birmingham was caused by a hole in the bed of the waterway, engineers have said.

    Gas Street Basin

    A 200m (650ft) stretch around the Gas Street Basin (pictured) has been drained for specialists to investigate water seeping from an aqueduct into a disused railway tunnel.

    The operation had to be delayed several times over the past two weeks due to a faulty seal on a safety gate.

    09:36: Icy conditions warning

    Staffordshire Police ‏warns of icy conditions after a car slipped up an embankment this morning.

    Car with smashed windscreen

    Wombourne Police tweets: First job of the day, straight out from briefing. Road conditions aren't good- Black ice around. Take care out there.

    09:24: Schools places fraud investigation BBC WM

    More than 1,200 investigations have been carried out in Birmingham and Dudley into school places fraud, according to figures seen by the BBC.

    For the past five years dozens of parents have faked their addresses to get their child into the best secondary schools.

    09:10: Pink bus is coming

    Labour's pink battle van will be in Halesowen, Sandwell and Wolverhampton today.

    Deputy leader Harriet Harman says she doesn't regret the colour despite the controversy.

    08:58: News on the hour Steve Hermon Journalist

    BBC WM has found that dozens of parents in the West Midlands have been caught faking their addresses to get their children into the best schools.

    In the news at 09:00, we'll hear from Lynne Sneddon, from Perry Barr, who was initially refused places at a nearby school for her three children.

    08:49: Pink bus comes to West Midlands Susana Mendonca BBC West Midlands political reporter

    As Labour's pink bus heads for the West Midlands, we've spoken to Harriet Harman about women voting.

    Labour's pink campaign bus

    Labour's deputy leader hit the headlines last month amid a storm of ridicule on social media over the pink battle van.

    She says the bus is an opportunity to "get out there and away from Westminster" and discuss the big issues, including immigration and equal pay.

    08:38: Concern for missing Solihull man

    Police are appealing for help to find a Solihull man who's been missing since Friday.

    Missing Christopher Parry from Solihull

    Christopher Parry, 54, who is a solicitor, was last seen at leaving his son's flat on Stratford Road, in Shirley, on Friday.

    He was reported missing to police the next day when he failed to return home from a job interview in Worcester. His disappearance has been described as very out of character.

    08:28: New police recruits Joanne Malin Presenter, Midlands Today

    Eighty two new recruits will join West Midlands Police today following a five-year recruitment freeze.

    West Midlands Police HQ

    Up to 20,000 people registered their interest to work with the force last year after it announced it was looking to recruit 450 new officers.

    08:15: Man due in court over flat fall

    A man's expected to appear in court later after a woman fell from a tower block balcony in Walsall.

    Emergency crews were called to Little London, in Caldmore, on Friday morning after the woman, believed to be in her 20s, was seriously injured.

    Michael Riggon, 52, from West Bromwich Street, Caldmore, has been charged with attempted murder.

    08:06: Today's forecast Anna Church Weather Presenter, BBC Midlands Today

    It's a cold and frosty start for some, with the potential for ice on untreated surfaces. There is the risk of a few isolated wintry showers this morning.

    Anna Church

    It looks like a mostly dry afternoon with plenty of winter sunshine. However, it will feel bitterly cold in a brisk westerly wind. Highs of 7C (44F).

    08:00: Good morning Stephanie Barnard BBC Local Live

    I'll be bringing you the latest news, sport, travel and weather for Birmingham and the Black Country.

    If you'd like to get in touch with the team today - email or tweet @BBCWM.



Elsewhere on the BBC

  • KnucklesGood or bad?

    For many it can be very satisfying to 'crack' the bones in your hand, but is it bad for you?


  • 3D model of Christ the Redeemer statueClick Watch

    Using drones to 3D map the famous Brazilian landmark Christ the Redeemer

Try our new site and tell us what you think. Learn more
Take me there

Copyright © 2015 BBC. 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.