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Schwartz park falls on stony ground

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An alliance of conservationists and Conservatives has pledged to fight the creation of a Modernist park in the heart of Birmingham.

The group is locked in a dispute with local government officers and Labour councillors, who want to commission Martha Schwartz, the American landscape designer who first found fame in 1979 with her bagel garden.

The 3.6ha park forms part of a masterplan of Birmingham's East End by HOK, which aims to set off economic regeneration in the area. Supporters believe a Modern design - possibly in the style of a 'Japanese garden' - will project the image of a 'thrusting young city'.

The row came to a head this week in the run up to a summit today that will officially decide the park's design style.

But councillors claim they have been 'briefed by officials' to expect a Modern design to be forced through despite the local opposition.

'There is a place for a Japanesestyle park but this is not it, ' Conservative Councillor Peter Douglas-Osborne said. 'This is the first park to be reclaimed in the city for more than 100 years and we want it to have grass and trees.

'In the bustle of Japan the silence of a stone park can be calming, ' the planning committee member said. 'But not in Birmingham - which is a city famous for its trees.'

Other opponents include the Birmingham Civic Society. 'We have told the council that our understanding of what makes up a landscaped park is greenery, ' chairman Brian Tanner said.

'This was originally billed in the masterplan as a park, ' he added. 'But we are now facing something else. We want to see more trees and more water features, not concrete and paving stones.'

However, plans for a Modern park have found the support of the Labour chair of leisure facilities Ian Ward, who has been lobbying for Schwartz to take on the job.

He told a council meeting last week that a 'Modern Japanese-style' garden would assist the economic regeneration of the area.

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