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Alsop's New Street scheme facing uncertain future

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Plans for an Alsop Architects' revamp of Birmingham New Street Station are already beset with both financial and practical problems.

The AJ has learnt that Network Rail - Railtrack's publicly owned successor - has failed to set aside any cash for the scheme.

And the company, which appointed the practice through a hush-hush competition at the end of last year, said other difficulties have arisen because of the shopping centre sited above the station.

According to a spokesman for Network Rail's Major Stations Division, the centre's owners have a 70-year lease on the building that will make any fundamental work on the station almost impossible.

Birmingham-based Glenn Howells has also raised a number of additional concerns that could hinder the project. 'There are some major operational problems with serious redevelopment on the site because it is the hub of the UK's rail network, ' he said.

Howells - who stressed his support for the decision to appoint Alsop for the job - said that it was almost impossible to make any serious changes to the station without triggering immense disruption to most of the country's intercity train services.

And he called on the city council to be more involved with the scheme and to treat it as a regeneration project.

'Some kind of Public Private Partnership to redevelop the whole area, as well as the station, would be a great way to take the scheme forward, ' Howells added.

Birmingham City Council's strategic planner, Mike Taylor, agreed that the station's problems are too great and too varied to be solved by Network Rail on its own.

'We have urged Network Rail to look at the bigger picture and go for something fundamental, ' Taylor said. 'We want them to make substantial changes. If they are forced to do something cosmetic because of all the problems, then it will be a complete waste of time.'

Alsop Architects is expected to complete its worked-up proposals by May, at which point the scheme will go public.Network Rail has instructed the practice not to publicly discuss the project in the meantime.

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