Council's big screen dream

Tramps, hoodlums and the various other categories of loiterer who clutter both Chamberlain and Victoria Square in central Birmingham must be bracing themselves for the return of their BBC Big Screen television that was removed from Chamberlain Square eight months ago.


The screen has been remounted in Victoria Square due to the nearby Waterloo House office block obtaining an injunction for noise disturbance and planning irregularities, but having spent £365,000 on the colossus Birmingham City Council were not about to give it up as a bad idea.

Far from ditching the screen, it has been reported today that the council will be building an ‘acoustic barrier’ at an undisclosed cost to ensure that office workers can work in peace whilst new arrivals to the country can be treated to the delights of Doctors, al fresco.

The council have insisted that the screen has a vital role, stating that it is the “key to our future development and status as a forward-thinking global city”. Eh? Now that’s an awful lot of emphasis to place on the presence of a big TV outside the council…

Of course, at the root of this is that Birmingham City Council are preoccupied with what the city looks like, rather than what it does and who it serves. They seem to think that if they pack enough screens and tall buildings (another obsession) into the centre and cross their fingers, it will eventually morph into New York. They seem to overlook that the aesthetic of somewhere like NY is purely a bi-product of what it does.

When you really consider the function of a big screen of Birmingham, it’s actually very difficult to pinpoint any particular benefit at all (aside from the benefit to those who don’t have a TV at home, or indeed a home).

In New York’s Time Square a screen might be used to advertise or to relate international news to tourists and workers from the four corners of the earth, acting almost like a sort of global mirror, whereas in Birmingham it plays Midlands Today to those visiting the Bullring from Dudley. If anything it only serves to magnify the more local and provincial nature of our city, something that Birmingham City Council seem to be ashamed of. 

Even if the council have good intentions, today’s Birmingham Post told of a £600,000 bill for the screen by 2012, a large amount of money that surely could have been put to much more constructive use?

Victoria Square is undoubtedly the jewel in central Birmingham’s crown, regularly surprising first-time visitors who have previously thought of the city as an urban concrete jungle. That Birmingham City Council would want to attract attention away from the magnificent council house building and the newly refurbished town hall with a ‘flashy’ oversized TV really does beggar belief.

Big screens are a great idea for sporting or music events during the summer, but having one as a permanent all-year-round fixture just isn’t necessary. If Birmingham wants to make an impact as a global city then the council are going to need residents on board, and when they’re wasting our money on frills like this that seems increasingly unlikely.

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