Birmingham City Council’s Cabinet voted to adopt the finalised Birmingham transport plan at its meeting on October 12 – meaning changes could be seen in a matter of months.
The plan – which follows a draft document published early last year and runs up to 2031 – is intended to bring about changes to bring about a “rapid shift” away from private car use.
Among the changes suggested in the document are the possibility of closing off the A38 tunnels through the city centre to traffic – though the council has said there are “no plans at this stage”.
More imminently, the city centre could within months be split into segments with the aim of preventing driving through the area, with drivers instead diverted to the ring road to move between zones.
The plan also makes other suggestions, such as extra rail capacity, more pedestrianisation in the city centre, a ban on pavement parking and the transformation of car parks into housing.
Cabinet member for transport and environment Councillor Waseem Zaffar said at the meeting the plan is intended to prioritise “cleaner, greener, healthier and more sustainable” modes.
Conservative group leader Councillor Robert Alden praised aspects of the plan such as the opening of railway lines such as the Camp Hill line.
But he said of the option to close the A38 tunnels: “It’s clear that would be disastrous for the city. When you look at the displaced traffic on the ring road that has happened, it’s chock-a-block.
“If those tunnels are closed to through-traffic, what that means is tens of thousands of journeys per day will be going above ground, into congestion, worsening air quality and worsening congestion on the ring road.
“If you want to get people onto public transport, the way you do it is by putting in place a good public transport system, not by removing the only means people currently have in many parts of the city to get into the city.”
Councillor Roger Harmer said he agreed with a lot of what is in the strategy and said residents’ responses showed many wanted to see more trams and more segregated cycling.
He said: “All of the investment that has actually been completed so far on trams has not made any difference to capacity for getting in and out of the city.
“Until we actually get the line out through the east of the city and the line on the Hagley Road, neither of which are funded yet – the tram has not made any difference to getting in an out of the city.
He said the segregated cycling lanes in place currently are “so far away from having a network” and said the current work taking place to install a Sprint route on the A45 is a “missed opportunity” to at the same time put in place the planned cycle lane.
He added the city needs more park and ride and that there is “very little” in the plan proposing that.
Cabinet member for health and social care Councillor Paulette Hamilton spoke in favour of the plan.
She said there was evidence the Clean Air Zone – criticised by the Conservative group at the meeting – was already making a difference to air pollution.
She said: “We have already seen an improvement in the quality of air in the city.
“I am not saying residents haven’t found it difficult but they are adapting, they are getting used to it. It is far better what we are trying to do for people’s health.
“Transition hurts. When you are trying to move from a way of working where the car is dominant and you are moving to a new way of looking at transport and the flow of transport around the city, it will hurt.
“But in the long term – the health effect, there will be a lot less lung conditions, people will be far more healthy because they will be using different forms of transport.”
Councillor Zaffar said “there are absolutely no plans to close the A38 tunnels” but that it would be “remiss” of the council not to have a conversation about the route.
Defending the Clean Air Zone, he said: “I think it’s really important we stop playing politics with people’s lives. This is about reversing health inequalities .”
He added it was essential children can grow up in the city “without disadvantage by air pollution”.
Following cabinet approval, a Birmingham transport plan delivery plan is now set to be drawn up, including “the detailed interventions required to deliver the vision”.