This video was created for the Urban Design Group Awards 2014. URBED was nominated for the practice award for our work on Icknield Port Loop.

Icknield Port Loop (IPL) is the best site
in Birmingham, the best site by general
consent and by a considerable margin.
Located about a ten minute walk along
the canal from the city centre, this 23 ha
vacant site is entirely in public ownership.
The central part of the site is owned by
the Canals and Rivers Trust, the northern
section by the HCA and the triangular site
to the south by the City Council. Together
they commissioned URBED and DTZ to
secure planning consent on the site for ‘a
high-quality, family-oriented, sustainable
and mixed use waterside neighbourhood’.
Permission was granted in October
2012 and later this year the land owners
will be marketing the site to secure
The key question to be addressed by
the masterplan has been how to bring
forward the site in a manner befitting its
importance at a time when the market has
no appetite for innovation. This created a
gap between the land owners’ aspirations
for a high-density exemplar development
(which was nevertheless viable) and
the market’s desire for something
more traditional and low density. The
significance of URBED’s masterplan is the
way that it has sought to resolve these

Icknield Port Loop is a key site in the
history of the canal system. The Loop in
question is James Brindley’s 1769 canal
from Birmingham to Wolverhampton
which was built on the 450’ contour
thereby avoiding the need for locks. This
did however lead to it being described
by Thomas Telford as little more than a
‘crooked ditch’ and in 1827 it was bypassed
by Telford’s Mainline canal (top right of
the plan) making the central part of the
site an island. The body of water on the
left of the plan is the reservoir built to
serve the mainline canal, which has been a
place of recreation for Birmingham people
ever since. The area around the canal was
developed for industry forming a barrier
between the more affluent suburbs to the
north and west and the inner city district
of Ladywood to the south and east. As the
industry declined and relocated it became
part of a major area of opportunity.

Birmingham is seeking to grow its
population significantly over the next
fifteen years. To this end it is planning
to build 50-60,000 new homes within
the city. The Big City Plan developed by
Urban Initiatives sets out a framework
to achieve this. After the city centre the
largest concentration of new housing is to
be in the Western Growth Corridor, at the
heart of which sits Icknield port Loop. The
plan envisages the Greater Icknield Area
being developed as a Sustainable Urban
Neighbourhood (based on the model
developed by URBED in the 1990s) with
6,000 new homes.

The Greater Icknield framework envisaged
1,700 units on the IPL site with housing
density bands of 70, 120 and 180 units per
hectare (u/ha). These proved very difficult
in a market where apartments were no
longer seen to be viable. Much or URBED’s
early work was therefore based on a study
of density typologies, using examples
from the UK and Europe to illustrate that
high densities and innovation were not
necessarily synonymous. The conclusion
was that 70 u/ha was the highest density
possible without apartments.
As a result of this work the City agreed
to drop the highest density band and to
allow the 120 u/ha zones to be allocated to
later phases of the scheme. The majority of
the masterplan is therefore designed to be
at 70 u/ha with a first phase at 40 u/ha to
allow an early start. This reduced the site
yield to 1,000 units. Ironically, when the
scheme was considered by committee, one
of their concerns was the suitability of the
70 u/ha housing for families.

The plan is based on five principles:
• The neighbourhood centre: the creation
of a local centre where Icknield Port
Road crosses the loop. This includes
a mix of uses and the higher density
• The central park: all the open space
requirement is gathered together in
the heart of the site. The park creates
view corridors to the canal in three
directions as well as the dam
• The canal: there was much debate over
the canal character. The masterplan
seeks to replicate the historic character
by which buildings rise sheer from the
water. There is also a strategy to create
a variety of residential and visitor
• Sub-neighbourhoods: the site is split
into four sub-neighbourhoods each to
be developed by different developers
and with different characters
• Stitching: the masterplan is designed to
‘regrow’ the existing street network to
stitch the site into its surroundings.

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