‘Should we save Birmingham Ringway? Of course we should!’

I want to tell you three little stories. The first is of a lawyer called Cecil Chubb, who in 1915 went to an auction in Salisbury to buy some furniture and ended up buying a ruin in Wiltshire. His wife wasn’t happy about that. The ruin was Stonehenge … which nobody else bid on.

The second story is how the great Grand Central Station in New York nearly disappeared, not once but twice, during the 20th century, to make way for a block of flats, some housing, offices – whatever, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Luckily, it was saved. And it is today one of the great tourist attractions of New York.

And the third story, talking of railways, is of the Poet Laureate John Betjeman’s attempts in the 1970s to save a railway station from destruction, from the wrecking ball. It was a horrible, dark, dank place. I remember it. It was the home to prostitutes and to criminals. It was St Pancras Station, which is now the Eurostar terminal, the great gateway into Britain for so many people coming from the Continent. To think it might not now be there.

What do we learn from stories like this? Well, I look at a building near me in Birmingham which is called the Ringway Centre. It’s a beautiful long thing, a ribbon of craftsmanship, of 1960s optimism. It comes from that great period of regeneration of the city. And it’s under threat. It’s under threat of being removed. And, once gone, of course, it can never be properly replaced.

So, yeah, there are three tests for me that matter hugely in the conservation of our built environment. Does the Ringway have all the imagination, excitement, the energy, the craftsmanship of say St Pancras? Well, yes, it does: it’s beautifully built. Does the Ringway perhaps represent the best of that style of architecture from that period in that city, Birmingham? Yes, undoubtedly, it really does. And can it be imaginatively reinvented? Oh yeah.

So, should we save it? Of course we should!

Kevin McCloud MBE is a designer, writer, and television presenter. This is a transcript of his video appeal to Birmingham City Council on behalf of The Twentieth Century Society