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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 July 2007, 16:50 GMT 17:50 UK
New look for 'ugly' New Street
By Ben Jeffrey
BBC News

As 128m of government money is confirmed towards a 550m project to redevelop Birmingham New Street, the BBC News Website examines how the station earned its unenviable reputation.

"I think the building is very ugly outside."

Birmingham New Street
New Street 2007: Putting the "ming" in Birmingham

This is the verdict of Hassan Ali, 24, from Norway, who is at Birmingham New Street for the first time.

His curt summary of the station's aesthetic appeal is one shared by almost everybody who has passed through.

But the station, which many see as an unwelcoming concrete blot on Birmingham's landscape, was not always a byword for urban ugliness.

The original building was constructed in the middle of the 19th Century and used to boast the largest iron and glass roof in the world.

The author George Borrow wrote in 1854 how "that station alone is enough to make one proud of being a modern Englishman".

We want to see a better infrastructure and not just cosmetic change
Peter Hughes, Railfuture

How times change.

Rebuilt in the 1960s, the concrete construction props up an NCP car park and the Pallasades shopping centre.

The station has attracted criticism ever since, and was even voted as the ugliest single building in the UK in a magazine poll in 2003.

But that reputation could be about to be shaken off, with the award of 128m of government cash to the 550m New Street Gateway project.

Computer generated image of the new-look New Street

The scheme would see an increased 10,000sq m concourse - about three times the size of the current one - and the opening up of the station interior to let in more natural light.

It aims to make New Street a more pleasurable place for commuters and tourists alike.

The station was designed to cope with about 60,000 passengers a day but currently serves about twice that number of people.

Its concrete facade, seen from Smallbrook Queensway, opposite the Bullring shopping centre, would also be demolished as part of the project.

Twin towers

It is to be transformed into a glass structure under the plans.

Two 30-storey glass towers are also proposed, one residential and one commercial, which would be two of the tallest buildings in the UK.

The work is due to be carried out in two stages between 2009 and 2013.

Computer generated image of the new-look New Street
A glass facade is aimed at providing a more stylish welcome to the city

Martin Chambers, programme director for New Street at Network Rail, said: "Every year more people use New Street station than Gatwick.

"The Gateway scheme will unlock growth at New Street and offer passengers the kind of facilities they deserve."

But despite New Street's well-deserved reputation for ugliness, the plans have not been met with universal approval.

Peter Hughes, from the campaign group Railfuture, has been lobbying for a Birmingham Grand Central, a larger purpose-built station based in Eastside, to replace New Street.

"The council missed a trick," he said. "It (the new New Street) won't add an inch of track. We must have more rail capacity.

"We want to see a better infrastructure and not just cosmetic change."

However Mr Hughes did concede that a revamped New Street would be better than sticking with the current eyesore.

"Poor thing, it never had a hope. It was buried under a shopping centre and a car park.

"If you were buried under a car park you'd look ugly too."

Take a virtual tour of the new-look station

Railways strategy outlined to MPs
24 Jul 07 |  UK Politics
New Street 120m funding unveiled
24 Jul 07 |  West Midlands
Skyscraper plan for city station
30 Aug 06 |  West Midlands
New Street's 500m plans revealed
16 Feb 06 |  West Midlands
Shopping centre could be sold off
15 Jul 05 |  West Midlands

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