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Alex Oxley: From the Commonwealth Games to the 2023 Young Planners Conference

Alex Oxley is Sandwell Council’s Capital Projects Manager responsible for both the completion and opening of Sandwell Aquatic Centre, which served as one of the core host venues for the B2022 games, and Sandwell MBC’s Commonwealth Games Legacy Plan.


Pretty Woman at the Alexandra, Sinatra the Musical at the Rep, but we all know the real theatre of the weekend is going to be found at the sold out 2023 Young Planners Conference, which will be hosted this year in Birmingham. And it had to be.

Just over 12 months ago, we saw the Commonwealth Games come to the West Midlands. It was the largest multi-sport event held in England in 10 years, planned and executed in record time, with over 1.5 million spectators descending upon the ‘city of 1000 trades’ to revel in 10 days of competition ranging from cricket and diving, to athletics and bowls (my now personal favourite Commonwealth sport).

Let it be known, this was the largest Commonwealth Games ever (it also had the largest para sport programme, more women’s events than men for the first time ever and was the most environmentally sustainable in the Games’ history. But I wouldn’t like us to sound like we’re bragging).

It’s a rather… interesting… time for the Commonwealth Games, with Victoria recently announcing their withdrawal as host venue for the 2026 games, followed shortly after by Alberta removing their names from the ‘hat’ in 2030. In fact, the Commonwealth Games only ever came to Birmingham as a result of Durban withdrawing as host venue in 2017, leaving just 4.5 years (rather than the usual 7) for the city to deliver the games. That said, despite the circling vulture of Commonwealth uncertainty, Birmingham put on a show for the world and demonstrated how to host a major international sporting event that benefits the people for years to come.

Notwithstanding the less-than-positive financial news coming out of the city in recent weeks, the significant core investment in the Games of £778 million has most certainly accelerated investment and regeneration in Birmingham, the West Midlands and beyond. But, the real question is how the region can capitalise on the games, the investment, and, importantly the sentiment, to drive forward growth and regeneration of the area for the longer term, rendering we hope recent news as a minor blip in a longer journey to regional growth. In short: legacy.

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Sandwell Aquatics Centre built for the Commonwealth Games

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Victoria Square getting ready for the Commonwealth Games

Legacy is the key thread that will run through the 2023 Young Planners Conference and the conference promises to be an excellent platform to come together to demonstrate the benefits of the Commonwealth Games, which will have genuine significance in this unprecedented time for the Games and the region.

The legacy of the Games has far reaching consequences for us planners: it delivered new homes; it delivered new sport and transport infrastructure; it delivered economic and visitor growth. But it also delivered more unquantifiable ‘things’. It delivered community engagement and pride in the area. Although, I say ‘unquantifiable’, 6 in 10 people from Birmingham and the surrounding area agreed the Games has improved perceptions of the city, with less than 1 in 10 saying it didn’t. So, it’s perfectly quantifiable, and I’m a liar, but it’s also a feeling and a sense of place.  

We’re busy working to deliver a YP Conference that will encapsulate some of that spirit and energy. Oh, and learning, I should mention learning. We have developed, in conjunction with all of the conference partners and sponsors, a truly fantastic programme of events, tours and sessions that will cover a range of topics from regeneration to renewables through to health and heritage, with a healthy dose of canal boat touring thrown in for good measure. ‘What is not to like?’, I hear you clamour.

In all seriousness, for a moment, we’re incredibly excited to show the Young Planner network the journey that the West Midlands is on, catalysed by the Games, and where we’re going as a region.

We’ll be welcoming YP’s to some of Birmingham’s most iconic venues and delivering social value en route, with Millennium Point as our primary venue. Millennium Point is owned by Millennium Point Charitable Trust, where profits from its commercial activity are invested in projects and initiatives that support the growth of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in Birmingham and the wider region. The Trust has invested more than £25m over the last six years back into such activities and will be able to continue its good work, in part, thanks to the conference.

We’re hosting our gala dinner at the Grade II listed Council House and therefore the 2023 conference will also contribute to the ongoing use and upkeep of this fantastic landmark heritage asset, whilst allowing attendees to be wined (other drinks available) and dined in this fantastic facility- a ‘win-win’ if ever there was.

We’re also going to be making the most of the cities fantastic public transport network and active transport links with the majority of events being hosted right in the heart of the city (sure starting to sound like a planning conference, right?).  

New to the Young Planners Conference? Here’s some of the key things to look forward to:

  • Unique networking opportunity with 250+ professionals from across the country with different professional backgrounds and experiences – planning is a small world etc
  • Learning from others / CPD which takes you beyond the ‘day to day’ and helps you think about how to apply in your job and local context
  • Getting to know other great cities and towns

We look forward to welcoming you to our fantastic region on the 13 and 14th of October 2023.

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