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Time finally runs out on ghost car park.

SHAFTS of weak winter sunlight stream through the honeycombed concrete wall.

It is the only illumination in the vast city centre building, empty save for the cooing pigeons.

The Bull Ring Car Park - hailed as the future of parking when it was opened in Birmingham in 1964 - lies as it was left three decades ago.

It has become little more than a reminder of how a brilliant idea can fail dismally when put into practice.

The trolleys which once pushed Ford Anglias and Austin 1100s into vacant spots stand rusting in their rollers and the lines dividing parking bays have disappeared under pigeon and rat droppings.

This is likely to be the last time we shall ever see inside this vast concrete white elephant.

In a few months time, it will be razed to the ground as part of the Bull Ring's pounds 800 million redevelopment.

For more than 30 years it has stood empty. Many don't even know it is there, although the distinctive honeycombed wall will be as familiar to most in the city as the Bull Ring symbol itself.

Most will not miss it although, for some, its departure will be tinged with regret for something that could have blazed a trail for car parking across the world - if it had worked.

Gerry Rourke, the Bull Ring's estate director, has a soft spot for the icy-cold, crumbling four-storey building.

"It was brilliant idea and we will never see the likes of it again," he said.

"We are all very excited by the new Bull Ring project but I know I shall be sad to see this, along with the rest of the centre, go."

The Bull Ring, described as a "town within a city" when it was built. It was the first development of its kind in the world and was opened in a blaze of glory in 1964.

One million square feet of shopping was housed on four acres in the heart of the city and proved to be hugely popular.

The car park, with room for 560 vehicles, was designed to offer shoppers a special touch when they drove to the centre.

Motorists left their car with a uniformed member of staff who would then drive it into a huge lift serving each of the four floors. It stopped at a level with spaces and the car would be driven out onto a trolley, then pushed to the nearest available space where it would be placed.

The scheme sounded simple enough, but designers had not accounted for the popularity of the centre and the time it would take to retrieve cars.

In reality, the mechanics of parking and returning so many cars on different levels proved impossible to handle and the building was closed in 1969.

It has never been used since.

"It was just too labour intensive," said Mr Rourke.

A building lying empty for more than 30 years seems such a waste of prime city centre space but there was little which could be done with it.

"After it closed, it could never be used for anything else because of its shape, the height of ceilings and so on," said Mr Rourke.

"In years to come, people will wonder what happened in the city during the 1960s, 70s and 80s because everything will be gone but Birmingham's motto is Forward and that couldn't be more apt."

The bulldozers are set to move in towards the end of the summer and the honeycombed wall will be no more.

In its place will stand a plush new Bull Ring with department stores, 100 shops and revamped markets which are expected to attract 22 million visitors from 2003 and create 8,000 jobs.

The hype surrounding the new development has echoes of that which heralded the original centre but surely this time there will be no repeat of the design disaster which is the Bull Ring car park.

Did you use the Bull Ring car park? What was your experience of it? Write to Talk About, Sunday Mercury, 28 Colmore Circus, Birmingham B4 6AZ.
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Author:Hassall, Carol
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Jan 30, 2000
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