Birmingham’s vision for liveable neighbourhoods

This resource is part of a collection called 20-minute neighbourhood case studies.

Birmingham and its citizens face significant opportunities and challenges that will need to be addressed to ensure that Birmingham in 2040 is a fairer, more inclusive, healthier, happier and greener city of the future. 

Liveable neighbourhoods is one way the City Council are tackling local challenges at the neighbourhood scale. Based on this principle, liveable neighbourhoods are a data-led approach to holistically deliver growth, infrastructure and services at the local level. 

Birmingham City Council are developing a toolkit and designated a pilot area, Bordesley Green, to develop a liveable neighbourhood area profile which will be used to inform interventions and decision making to make the area a more sustainable, healthy and prosperous community. If successful, the toolkit will then provide a process for mapping and delivering other liveable neighbourhoods across the city. 

Who and where?

Birmingham City Council 

Bordesley Green, East Birmingham pilot area 

Features and Principles highlighted

  • Research, data and analysis (Principle for success)

The challenge

Birmingham City Council recognise that the city faces significant challenges that must be addressed to ensure that Birmingham in 2040 is a fairer, more inclusive and greener city of the future. These challenges include: adapting to climate change; economic change brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic; delivering quality homes and places; and the need to tackle inequalities and deliver the levelling up agenda. 

Neighbourhood scale interventions are seen as key in helping to address these challenges and the Council are developing ideas to create a network of liveable neighbourhoods where, in simple terms, residents can live in a more sustainable way. Residents will have access to an attractive quality environment, and all the key goods, services and facilities they need to lead a full and healthy life within a short walk/ public transport journey of their homes. 

Defining these neighbourhood areas has been the key initial challenge of the project. A number of methodologies were considered by the Council, including boundaries based on geographical features and resident perceptions, using existing definitions like ward boundaries and also a practical look at the geographies existing data sets cover and to what level of detail. 

We were grappling with how to define the spatial pilot area and looking at, if the pilot was successful, how would we scale it up across the city, how would all the liveable neighbourhoods link together?

Andrew Lindop, Principal Development Planning Officer, Birmingham City Council

Ultimately, the methodologies were blended to become hexagonal spatial approach – where hexagons were applied across the whole city area, with each one approximately covering the distance of 1200m from its centre point to the hexagon boundary line, a short walk of approximately a 15-minutes (30 minutes there and back). The Council decided that if the hexagons applied were any larger, the key short walking time in one direction would be lost. If the hexagons were applied any smaller e.g. 600m from the centre point to the boundary line, then the task to meaningfully analyse them all would be too unwieldy.

The solution

To develop and test the emerging thinking, the area of Bordesley Green was chosen as a pilot. A hexagon was applied to the area and covers the local centres of Bordesley Green, Green Lane and Coventry Road. Known challenges within the zone include higher than city average levels of deprivation, social isolation, poor air quality, significant overcrowding and lower life expectancy. The area is also low in public open space per 1000 population and has a younger than average population – 30% of residents are aged 25-44 years old. 

Having defined the pilot area, a data profile for Bordesley Green liveable neighbourhood is being developed. This will be done by collecting the data sources outlined in the emerging toolkit, which contains a draft set of domains that have been consulted on with council officers and partners. The domains cover access to: 

  • diverse affordable housing  and market housing  
  • public transport and active travel options  
  • local healthcare services and exercise facilities  
  • nature and a pleasant and welcoming green environment 
  • education  
  • employment and training  
  • local centres 
  • social and cultural infrastructure  
  • local healthy, and affordable food    
  • digital services  
  • a safe environment 

For each domain there is the potential for very large quantities of data and an endless number of indicators, so the Council are pursuing a number of smart indicators to measure success of liveable neighbourhoods. These include: 

  • air quality assessments  
  • traffic counts/speed measurements  
  • pedestrian counts in local centres 
  • average local centre vacancy rates  
  • number of residents with cardiovascular conditions as a proportion of the population  
  • number of residents with respiratory conditions as a proportion of the population  
  • number of residents with mental health conditions as a proportion of the population  

The Council recognise that they do not currently have access to all the data required and that they will need to work with outside partners and for some domains commission an independent evidence base to give finer grain detail. 

It is hoped that the outcomes of the pilot project will see: 

  • a reduction in carbon emission levels and outward traffic 
  • a measurable improvement in physical and mental wellbeing  
  • thriving services, facilities and local centres that meet the needs of ALL communities living within the pilot area 
  • an improvement in the housing offer that better meets the needs of the local population 
  • development of policy that can be taken forward in the review of the Birmingham Development Plan to influence future development decisions 

Key lessons

  • Research, data and analysis (Principle for success)

The approach is based on data – quantitative and qualitative. Work to define the domains and indicators for the project has been an evolving process and relevant and accessible data sources have been identified as available or requiring to be sourced. 

Crucially, all the research and work will support the Birmingham Development Plan Review, with the potential for liveable neighbourhoods to become policy. The work also strengthens the links between other Council plans and strategies including those on green infrastructure, city transport, city development, infrastructure delivery, CIL and developer contributions and the city property services portfolio and estates team. 

Planning is only useful in so far as we can set a use class for a building, but with this we are talking about your butcher, your baker, your candlestick maker and planning can’t really do much to specify uses. So, its also looking at the Council’s land ownership as well and how that could come forward to meet a community’s identified needs.

Andrew Lindop, Principal Development Planning Officer, Birmingham City Council

What next?

Subject to Council sign off, the next stage of the liveable neighbourhood project will see the commissioning of the independent evidence base to build the pilot liveable neighbourhood area profile, strategy and delivery plan. There will also be two funded community research posts to support the development of a resident engagement phase of the project, especially around understanding local housing need.

There are key questions to still be explored for the liveable neighbourhood approach and one is around governance. If the concept is going to be scalable across the city, the Council will need to consider how decisions are made where the hexagons overlap multiple electoral wards and how any new neighbourhood designations interact with adopted and emerging Neighbourhood Plans. 

There is also recognition within the Council, that despite this project being led by Planning, it has the potential to touch on how the entire Council operate at a corporate level. 

Liveable neighbourhoods are much bigger than planning, it touches on regeneration as well but it can also touch on how we operate as a Council – if we can all operate according to the liveable neighbourhood model there is potential for cost savings and synergies between workstreams and better integration of delivery of council services.

Andrew Lindop, Principle Development Planning Officer, Birmingham City Council

With thanks to Andrew Lindop – Principal Development Planning Officer, Birmingham City Council.

For more information see Our Future City Plan (OFCP) – Central Birmingham 2040 | Birmingham City Council