A Sustainable Future Planned for the Loop; ICKNIELD PORT LOOP One of Europe's Biggest Sustainable Housing Schemes Is Planned for Icknield Port Loop - Barely a Mile from Birmingham's Urban Heart. Ian Halstead Reports
Byline: Ian Halstead
The Icknield Port Loop of today is a bleak 65-acre chunk of urban dereliction, sprawling into the middle distance from the passing West Coast main-line, and the canals which give the site its name.
At first glance, it looks no more than a likely location for the industrial warehouses and distribution centres which litter the area. Even the site's most intriguing feature, Edgbaston Reservoir, can't be seen until expert eyes point it out, hidden by its Victorian earth-works and a clutch of sickly-looking silver birches.
However, in the effervescent company of ISIS development manager Nick Bird, the Icknield Port Loop of the future is revealed.
He sees a waterside community evolving between now and 2025, with between 3,000 and 4,000 homes, alongside a million square feet of commercial space.
ISIS - created to unlock the massive potential of British Waterways' assets - controls 28 acres of the site, with another 14 acres in the city council's hands, and ten more owned by Advantage West Midlands.
The latter has invested around pounds 16 million over the last five years, assembling its stake, flattening derelict buildings and remediating polluted land.
The council's varied assets include the reservoir, a leisure and social centre, a fire station and a redundant swimming baths.
Another 13 acres is presently controlled by a range of landlords and small business owners, although bringing their holdings into the scheme isn't expected to prove difficult.
Nick Bird calculates that via seven or eight development phases, this urban wasteland will be transformed into a pounds 900 million mixed-use scheme.
And although there will be homes a-plenty, the new Icknield Port Loop won't become a paradise for singletons and buy-to-let investors, as have so many similar urban ventures.
The focus is very much on creating a long-term and sustainable community for families.
"There has been far too much identikit stuff put up in city centres over the last decade, but this will be different," says Bird.
"We see this becoming an exemplar for the way in which sustainable communities should be developed, as Brindleyplace was 15 years ago."
Bird is convinced the waterside location will increase the potential return for ISIS and its two partners.
"Water adds value, and - as you might expect - is a major part of our agenda. Where in the middle of a city can you find a location which is essentially an island surrounded by a canal?"
The commercial elements which will occupy around 20 per cent of the scheme will be equally important, by creating employment within the new community.
He's also already planning sustainable features which could be brought to Icknield Port Loop.
"We'll certainly have a combined heat and power plant here, and might be able to bring the local swimming pool back into action," says Bird
"One problem, especially in summer, is getting rid of the surface heat generated by such plants. It could be we could use that heat for the pool."
Cycle paths and canal-side walkways are obvious elements, but British Waterways is also considering using a water bus to link the various areas of the site and Bird is already talking to Travel West Midlands about setting up new bus routes to serve the community.
But what is the short-term catalyst for this landmark venture?
Bird expects ISIS, AWM and the council to submit a joint application for the first phase this summer, with a view to beginning enabling works in the middle of 2009, and starting on-site by early 2010.
It's taken some six years to reach this stage, of course, with long-forgotten debates over who should drive the scheme forward, and what the mix of uses should be.
The council's regeneration and planning director, Clive Dutton, says the crucial moment came last summer. …