Birmingham’s Opportunities as Commonwealth Games Host

Just before Christmas, the city of Birmingham received its own much-anticipated present, in the form of confirmation that its Commonwealth Games bid was successful.

It has now been confirmed that Birmingham will host the Commonwealth games in 2022, after the original winner of the bid, Durban, was stripped of its win in March 2017 after failing to meet a series of financial deadlines. The 2022 Commonwealth Games is the biggest sporting event to be held in an English city since London hosted the Olympics in 2012, and Birmingham has much to do in order to be ready to take its own turn as host.

Several major venues will be upgraded or expanded, and an athletes’ village must be built to accommodate the thousands of athletes who will compete in the games.

Birmingham Commonwealth Games

Birmingham is a fitting venue for the Commonwealth Games. It’s the most culturally and ethnically diverse major regional city in the UK. Its population includes people of 187 different nationalities, and 6% of the city’s residents were born in a Commonwealth country.

That puts Birmingham in a unique and privileged position to serve as host to the games that unite the world’s Commonwealth countries. The city’s recognition of diversity and exclusivity as a force for positive change is a core part of the Commonwealth hosting plans, along with city connectivity and accessibility, and sustainability of transportation, energy use and creation, and infrastructure development.

The Scope of the Project: How Birmingham is Preparing for the Games

Price Waterhouse Cooper estimates that on each of the 11 days of the games, between 500,000 and 1 million additional visitors will pour into the city for games-related activities. As Birmingham currently has a population of just over 1 million, and sees around 39 million visitors a year, this constitutes a major increase in population for the duration of the games. That means there’s a lot of work to be done in order to accommodate not just the large number of visitors who will enter the city each day to enjoy the action, but also the thousands of athletes who will participate in the games, as well as trainers and other personnel.

What will Birmingham need to do in order to be ready to host the Commonwealth Games in 2022?

This is an immense undertaking for any city, but for Birmingham, circumstances have aligned to give the city some advantages in securing the bid, and completing its preparations for the games. The city already has substantialexperience when it comes to hosting major international events: in past years Birmingham has hosted the Rugby World Cup at Villa Park; the ICC Champions Trophy and The Ashes at Edgbaston, Aegon Classics tennis at Edgbaston Priory; the UCI BMX Championships; Yonex All England Open Badminton; and Diamond League athletics at Alexander Stadium.

Birmingham Commonwealth Games
Exterior Of The Birmingham International Convention Centre

The City of Birmingham is already home to several sport and leisure venues that will be upgraded or repurposed in order to accommodate Commonwealth events.

  • Alexander Stadium will be upgraded and expanded for athletic events.
  • Indoor sports such as judo, wrestling, and boxing will take place at the National Exhibition Centre, along with wrestling and table tennis. This venue will also serve as a fanzone.
  • The Barclaycard Arena will host gymnastics events.
  • Weightlifting and para powerlifting will be held at Symphony Hall.
  • A new aquatics centre will be built in Sandwell for swimming and diving events.
  • Netball will be held at the Ericsson Indoor Arena at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry.
  • Badminton will take place at Genting Arena.
  • Hockey and squash events will be held at the University of Birmingham.
  • Villa Park Stadium will host the Rugby 7s.
  • Lawn bowls will take place at Victoria Park, Royal Leamington Spa.

Birmingham Development Plan to be accelerated

Another advantage that Birmingham holds is that much of the work that needs to be done has already been mapped out, as part of the city’s 2031 Development Plan. The Birmingham Development Plan was adopted on 10 January 2017, and details both a vision and a strategy for sustainable growth through to the year 2031. Intended to be used to guide Birmingham City Council decisions on planning, development, regeneration, and sustainability, the plan addresses challenges such as projected population growth, and the provision of jobs, housing, and other essentials for the city’s residents.

In order to host the games, the city will now accelerate the pace of some aspects of the project, and in doing so will create jobs and drive long-lasting positive changes for the city, through increased housing and the much-needed improvement of existing sports facilities.

Most venues are already in place and only need upgrading

When making its Commonwealth bid, one major advantage for the City of Birmingham was that 95% of the necessary venues are already in place, and can be repurposed to accommodate the games. Relatively few structures will need to be purpose-built, although those few construction projects will be large-scale ones.

Birmingham Commonwealth Games
Exterior Of The Birmingham National Exhibition Centre NEC

For instance, the internationally-recognised National Exhibition Centre, where events such as boxing, judo, and wrestling will be held, played a starring role in Birmingham’s Commonwealth bid. Along with the adjacent Genting Arena this venue offers over 200,000 square metres of event space, making it one of the biggest indoor sporting facilities in Europe, and the largest in the UK.

One of the most important redevelopment projects that will soon get under way is a much needed overhaul of Alexander Stadium, which will host the athletic events.

Currently the venue holds just 12,700 people at full capacity; an expansion was already planned as part of the Birmingham Development Plan. The stadium will now be expanded to provide permanent seating for up to 25,000, with the addition of temporary seating to increase the venue’s capacity to somewhere between 40,000 and 50,000. As well as this, a 400-metre warm-up track will be added to the stadium’s facilities.

A small number of construction projects are under development

While relatively little is needed in terms of new construction, one particular facility does need to be built from the ground up: the athletes’ village. This is a significant undertaking, as around 5,000 athletes are expected to participate. The village is to be built in the Perry Barr area, located near Alexander Stadium. After the games, it is expected that the athletes’ village will be repurposed to provide homes for up to 1,000 families. The development of the village is slated to be carried out as part of a larger scheme to build 3,000 council homes in Perry Barr.

The Commonwealth Village isn’t the only new construction project under development. A new aquatics centre, located in Sandwell, is also on the drawing board. The Sandwell Aquatics Centre will include a 50-metre pool, a diving pool, and permanent seating for 1,000. In addition, temporary seating will be able to accommodate up to 4,000 spectators during the games. The centre may open as early as 2021.

Counting the cost

Of course, all of these carefully-laid plans will cost money, and plenty of it. The overall cost of the upgrades and new construction being completed for the games is expected to be somewhere in the region of £750 million. The government will contribute the bulk of the money, and will contribute around £560 million. The local council will come up with the remaining £190 million.

Various schemes are being considered as methods for raising the needed funds. One scheme that has been proposed and is likely to be adopted is that Birmingham will become the UK’s first city to impose a hotel tax. If implemented this practice, which is common in many European cities, will see Birmingham hotel-goers paying an extra £2 a night for their accommodation.

Development Opportunities and New Jobs

Winning the 2022 Commonwealth Games bid means thousands of new jobs will be created in Birmingham over the next four years. An estimated 4,526 temporary jobs will be created in the West Midlands area, with those jobs lasting until 2022. In addition around 950 permanent jobs will be created. As well as thousands of jobs, around 12,500 volunteer workers will be needed during the games themselves, which will provide volunteers with opportunities for training and even qualifications.

In short, the Birmingham City Council’s acceleration of its long term plans for developing the city’s infrastructure and major sporting venues means that new jobs and development opportunities are coming much sooner than previously anticipated.

Naturally, this will include a variety of jobs relating to design and construction, including engineering and architecture jobs, as well as jobs relating to sport, leisure, and tourism. In addition to the athletes’ village, which will provide homes for thousands of people after the games are over, plans for major transportation upgrades are being brought forward to improve the city’s bus, road, tram, and rail systems. Hundreds of millions of pounds will be invested in upgrades that will provide permanent benefits for the city of Birmingham and its residents, as well as provide both short-term and permanent jobs. Overall, the games will be a huge boon for the local economy, with around £750 million being invested in improving local infrastructure and Commonwealth venues, and an anticipated gross economic benefit to the UK of £1.1 billion. There are huge opportunities under way for people in all aspects of construction design and development, particularly for those individuals and firms who are well-versed in sustainability practices and BIM.

Birmingham Commonwealth Games
Artist impression of the new Aquatics Centre to be built in Sandwell for swimming and diving events

As part of the Birmingham Development Plan, the city plans to take a proactive approach to addressing challenges such as climate change, sustainability, population growth, and strengthening the local economy. More than one-fifth of Birmingham’s area consists of green spaces such as parks, allotments, playing fields, nature reserves, and golf courses, making it one of Britain’s greenest cities. It’s particularly important, therefore, that preserving those green spaces is a high priority when it comes to developing new areas of housing, upgrading infrastructure, and expanding existing construction. Under the Birmingham Development Plan, the development of sustainable housing areas in particular must be properly supported by social infrastructure that provides for the needs of all residents.

Another area of focus is that of transportation and accessibility of different parts of the city. Upgrading the city’s public transport systems is essential in order to avoid severe congestion, as up to 1 million additional visitors are expected for every day of the games. In the long-term these upgrades are intended to help Birmingham residents reduce their reliance on cars, and instead use public transport systems to navigate the city—or to use non-motorised transport methods such as walking and cycling.

After the Games: Birmingham’s Long Term Plans for Driving Positive Change

The benefits of hosting the Commonwealth Games are immense and wide-ranging, and the legacy of the games will last much longer than the 11-day event in 2022. From raising the profile of the city and surrounding region, to creating jobs, and providing access to enhanced sports and leisure facilities for Birmingham’s residents.

Ian Ward, Birmingham Council Labour leader, said “We have to be bold and visionary (and grasp) this once in a lifetime opportunity. Future generations will not think well of us if we lose confidence at this stage. This is our time.”

Birmingham’s Commonwealth bid is strongly connected to its 2031 development plan, and on the long term benefits that hosting the games can bring to the city’s residents. Three expected long term benefits include better health and well-being, better prospects, and better lives for the people who live and work in Birmingham.

Through the development and upgrade of the city’s sport and leisure facilities, Birmingham hopes to harness the power of physical activity to improve the lives of the people who live there—by improving the quality of its facilities, improving access and connectivity, and by upgrading the city’s transportation systems as well as its sport and leisure centres. This focus will facilitate the city’s ability to accommodate the needs of the Commonwealth Games and the thousands of participating athletes, and to meet the long-term needs of its permanent residents.