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

    Back on Monday 18:00:

    BBC Local Live will be back from 08:00 on Monday with the latest news, sport, travel and weather for Birmingham and the Black Country.

    Showery rain likely 17:56:

    Showery rain, heavy at times, will move northwest across the region, followed during the early hours by drier conditions with clear spells, patchy mist or low cloud.

    Winds will ease and it will be milder than recent nights, lows of 6C (43F).

    Police eggs 17:44:

    Sally Bourner, Solihull police commander tweets: Happy Easter to you all & making sure your day is 'choc' full of @SolihullPolice love - thanks to @OltonSilhillNPT

    Eggs decorated as police officers

    Have you been eating eggs today or maybe decorating some? Email us your photos.

    Road remains shut 17:31:

    The A4148 Broadway North in Walsall is closed in both directions between the Prince's Avenue junction and the Walhouse Road junction, because of accident investigation work. Diversion in operation - via local roads, BBC Travel News reports.

    Boy dies 17:19: Express and Star

    A second person has died in hospital following a three-vehicle crash in which six other people were seriously injured.

    'All on hold' 17:03: Richard Wilford BBC WM Sport

    Another Aston Villa statement has been released this afternoon, that's makes it four in five days.

    Randy Lerner didn't take the chance to say the club isn't going to be sold - all on hold until the summer.

    Aston Villa sale rumours 16:52:

    The Aston Villa chairman says rumours the club is up for sale will be addressed after the season has finished.

    Randy Lerner says on the club's website: "Paul Lambert has done nothing but work within the parameters I've set, put the Club first and continue to trust his players.

    "As regards my personal role at the Club and the steady rumours of a sale, I will address these after the season.

    "Paul Lambert, Paul Faulkner and I speak daily and remain committed to the immediate job of limiting distraction and confusion in order that Villa have the best chance possible of finishing on a strong note."

    'Confidential process' 16:46:

    Park View Educational Trust, a trust which runs some of the schools being investigated as part of the 'Trojan Horse' inquiry says it "finds it highly irresponsible that some media accounts are suggesting that schools will close" in Birmingham.

    In a statement on its Golden Hillock School website the trust says the Department for Education and Ofsted are yet to publish their final reports and the "confidential process is still ongoing".

    Lancs v Warwickshire 16:24: Mike Taylor BBC WM Sport

    Lancashire 197 for 5 v Warwickshire

    Two wickets shortly before tea kept this opening day roughly level. Luke Proctor helped Paul Horton add 83 for the fourth wicket before flicking a catch to square leg off Oliver Hannon-Dalby.

    Horton seemed on course for a century, but his patient innings was ended on 83 when Keith Barker won an appeal for lbw. Earlier Chris Woakes had removed star batsman Ashwell Prince for 0 to briefly put Warwickshire on top, but the day is now well balanced.

    Have your say 16:10:

    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.

    Bright light 15:57: Stephanie Barnard BBC Local Live

    It's wet, grey and cloudy here in Birmingham city centre at the moment.

    Over-sized lamp at The Mailbox in Birmingham

    We've not been sent any photos of the sun rising or people enjoying the great outdoors today. The closest I've come to bright light is this over-sized lamp at The Mailbox.

    Eliza Doolittle in Birmingham 15:42: via Facebook

    Birmingham Updates posts on Facebook: Eliza Doolittle busking on New Street on Saturday afternoon (19/04) ahead of her gig with Gary Barlow at The LG Arena.

    Teenager charged after stabbing 15:22:

    A 17-year-old has been charged after a 24-year-old man sustained "life-threatening" injuries in a stabbing in Birmingham.

    Police at crime scene

    Kurt Homer was injured in Erdington at about 22:50 last Monday.

    Lancs v Warwickshire 14:59: Mike Taylor BBC WM Sport

    Lancashire 144 for 3 off 50 overs:

    Chris Woakes struck in the final over before lunch to even up the morning session. Andrea Agathangelou had played attractively for 48, although not without risk - rather than play for the interval, he drove airily and edged to the keeper.

    Old Trafford

    Warwickshire's seamers battled against a harsh crosswind, which negated any advantage of bowling first in poor light - the floodlights are still on. Coverage continues online.

    Families agony 14:36: Halesowen News

    The Bishop of Worcester, the Right Reverend Dr John Inge, highlighted the agony of families coping with the uncertainty of the mysterious disappearance of flight MH 370, which went missing on March 8 with 239 people on board, in his Easter message.

    Wilshaw to 'take charge' 14:21:

    Ofsted chief Sir Michael Wilshaw is to take personal charge of the watchdog's investigation into claims that a number of schools in Birmingham have been taken over by Muslim hardliners.

    Sir Michael Wilshaw

    The Department for Education has ordered its own review of the evidence in the so-called Trojan Horse conspiracy.

    Ofsted has not commented on claims that leaked inspection reports confirm that there have been serious problems in some schools.

    Check your train route 14:05:

    London Midland tweets: If travelling today, due to engineering works some routes may be running to an amended timetable. Full info here -…

    Broadway North shut 13:44:

    The A4148 Broadway North in Walsall closed in both directions between the Prince's Avenue junction and the Walhouse Road junction, because of accident investigation work. Diversion in operation - via local roads, BBC Travel News reports.

    Showers later 13:29: Charlie Slater Weather presenter, BBC Midlands Today

    Mainly dry apart from a couple of showers in West Midlands but rain is on the way tonight. Happy Easter!

    Weather forecast for Sunday evening
    Two teens injured 13:13:

    Two teenagers are injured in disorder in Wolverhampton during which police believe shots could have been fired. Read more on BBC News.

    Food parcels 'double' 12:57: BBC WM

    A charity says the number of food parcels it's given to people in the West Midlands has doubled in a year.

    The Trussell Trust say it's handed out 93,000 parcels with demand still rising.

    Gavin Kibble from the trust says changes to benefit systems and delays partly accounts for the rise.

    Easter eggs for sick kids 12:42:

    Sick children across Walsall are being handed Easter eggs for the charity, Rosie's Helping Hands.

    Police officers and volunteers from Rosie's Helping Hands with chocolate Easter eggs

    Officers and staff at Walsall police station have backed the campaign to ensure every child in City hospital is given an egg this weekend.

    Your feedback 12:21:

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

    Ambulance crash 12:06:

    Three people, including a paramedic, have been injured after a crash involving an ambulance service response vehicle and a car in Walsall, police say.

    The paramedic and the driver and passenger from the BMW are in hospital after the crash which happened at about 09:30.

    Broadway North is closed between Princes Avenue and Walhouse Road while investigations take place.

    Aldridge car fire 11:58:

    Aldridge Fire Service tweets: Early morning car fire in the urban safari that's Aldridge. Luckily no lions about

    Car fire in Aldridge
    Ofsted inquiries 11:42: Reeta Chakrabarti Social Affairs correspondent, BBC News

    The BBC has been told that the chief inspector of schools in England, Sir Michael Wilshaw, is to take personal responsibility for Ofsted's investigation into a group of schools in Birmingham alleged to have been the subject of takeovers by Muslim hard liners.

    Sir Michael is to go to Birmingham this week to finalise the inspection reports, with a view to writing a letter to Education Secretary Michael Gove about the findings in early May.

    Library shut 11:25:

    The Library of Birmingham tweets: Please note, the Library of Birmingham is closed today!

    Walsall RTC 11:09:

    West Midlands Traffic Police tweets: Currently in attendance at a serious RTC on Broadway North @Walsallpolice Please avoid the area for the time being.

    Cricket: Old Trafford 10:56: Mike Taylor BBC WM Sport

    An early view from the enormous new media centre at Old Trafford. Warwickshire are here to start a four-day Championship match against Lancashire this morning.

    Old Trafford

    There'll be commentary throughout the day, available online. It is a little brighter here than when I left Birmingham this morning, but windy and cold.

    Nottm Forest 1-0 Birmingham 10:43:

    Birmingham City are just one point adrift of the relegation zone in the Championship after a one-nil defeat at Nottingham Forest.

    Blues have won only two of their last ten matches.

    Manager Lee Clark says: "We have to dust ourselves down following this, because we have some huge games coming up. We have to go again."

    Sentence upheld 10:19: Express and Star

    The mother of Staffordshire murder victim Richard Deakin welcomes a decision by top judges to uphold his killer's jail sentence.

    Aston Villa 0-0 Southampton 09:54:

    Aston Villa played out a goalless draw at home to Southampton to move five points clear of the bottom three in the Premier League.

    Paul Lambert

    It ended a run of four straight defeats.

    It's been a difficult week for the club off the pitch following the suspensions of Culverhouse and Karsa pending an internal investigation.

    Wolverhampton disturbance 09:34:

    Part of Wolverhampton city centre was sealed off by armed police last night after a disturbance in which two people were injured.

    It happened in the Lichfield Street area and there were reports that a gun had been fired.

    A man and a woman both in their teens were taken to hospital and a man has been arrested.

    As it happened
    Cricket: Lancashire v Warwickshire 09:19:

    Warwickshire begin their second County Championship match of the season later this morning.

    The Bears take on Lancashire over the next four days at Old Trafford seeking to bounce back from their defeat against Sussex.

    You can hear ball-by-ball commentary online from 11:00.

    Listen: Hunted! 08:59: Richard Wilford BBC WM Sport

    Join me and the hunter Debi at 9am as the Hunted! Voice gives me five clues that lead us to five locations across Birmingham and the Black Country.

    Help us unravel the clues to point them in the right direction. Listen live to BBC WM.

    Reduced London service 08:52:

    Engineering work between Wolverton and Rugby means trains between London Euston and Birmingham New Street are reduced to one train per hour, until 12:00, the National Rail website reports.

    Rainbow event 08:45:

    Adderley Street in Birmingham is closed at the B4100 High Street Bordesley junction, because of event at The Rainbow, BBC Travel News reports.

    Streetly death 08:35:

    Police have launched a murder inquiry after the death in hospital of a 27-year-old man who was injured in a fight outside a pub in Streetly.

    The Deer's Leap pub

    The man, who has not been named, was punched to the floor outside the Deer's Leap on Queslett Road.

    Rain likely later 08:11:

    Generally dry but mainly cloudy, though brighter spells may develop. However, rain is likely across southern counties later in the afternoon, possibly locally heavy at times.

    Feeling cooler than of late, under cloudy skies and in a brisk northeasterly wind. Maximum temperature of 14C (57F).

    Good morning 08:00: Stephanie Barnard BBC Local Live

    I'm in the BBC WM newsroom bringing you the latest news, sport, travel and weather updates for Birmingham and the Black Country.

    If you'd like to comment on any of the updates we're featuring today please do get in touch via email, Twitter or Facebook.



  • The OfficeIn pictures

    Fifty landmark shows from 50 years of BBC Two

  • French luxury Tea House, Mariage Freres display of tea pots Tea for tu

    France falls back in love with tea - but don't expect a British cuppa

  • Peter MatthiessenPeter and Paddy

    Remembering two of the greatest travel writers

  • Chinese GPRace ace

    Lewis Hamilton builds edge in F1 championship BBC Sport

Elsewhere on the BBC

  • ITChild's play

    It's never been easier for small businesses to get their message out to the world


  • An aerial shot shows the Olympic Stadium, which is closed for repair works on its roof, in Rio de Janeiro March 28, 2014.Extra Time Watch

    Will Rio be ready in time to host the Olympics in 2016? The IOC president gives his verdict

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.