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Campaigners battle to save historic Birmingham church

Conservation campaigners are calling for Barratt Homes to halt plans to demolish the church and former orphanage as part of major new housing estate

Conservation campaigners have launched a battle to save a historic Birmingham church and former orphans' home which are due to be demolished as part of a major housing development.

Barratt Homes unveiled its plans last month to build 772 houses and apartments on land at the corner of Bristol Street and Belgrave Middleway on the edge of the city centre.

Both Save Britain's Heritage and The Victorian Society have now written to Birmingham City Council voicing their objections to the plans to knock down St Luke's Church and the Highgate Centre.

Completed in 1903 and fronting onto Bristol Street, the vacant church was designed by noted Birmingham architects Mansell and Mansell, the team behind 44 Waterloo Street, now home to a Caffè Nero overlooking Birmingham Cathedral, and the Fattorini Works in the Jewellery Quarter.

The Highgate Centre, in St Luke's Road, dates back to 1877 and was most recently used as a city council office building but was once a home for orphaned children.

St Luke's Church in Bristol Street is set to be demolished
St Luke's Church in Bristol Street is set to be demolished

The 21.5-acre application site is owned by Birmingham City Council and the Homes and Communities Agency.

It once housed Matthew Boulton College and the St Luke's housing estate but has been vacant since the college buildings were demolished around nine years ago.

In a letter to the city council, Mike Fox, deputy director of Save Britain's Heritage, said the 'Bristol Street and St Luke's Development Framework' stated both buildings should be retained and if possible reused in any future development.

He said: "We firmly believe both buildings can be provided with new uses and their retention as part of the wider St Luke's redevelopment would immeasurably improve the proposals, providing a sense of place and anchoring the new buildings to their location.

"They are not so sizeable as to inhibit development of the wider site nor in a condition that prevents their reuse.

"St Luke's is evidently a handsome, landmark building which has witnessed and survived considerable changes around it.

"Its position on one of the most prominent road junctions in the city makes it a well-known building and its loss to this area and Birmingham as a whole would be considerable.

Highgate Centre once housed orphans before becoming city council offices
Highgate Centre once housed orphans before becoming city council offices

"We firmly disagree with the applicant's heritage statement that St Luke's is of limited architectural and historic interest.

"Mansell and Mansell are local architects of distinction and their surviving buildings are deserving of respect."

Tim Bridges, on behalf of The Victorian Society, echoed this viewpoint, referring to the Highgate Centre as "a brick building of character".

He said: "Erected as a children's emigration home, it is also an evocative part of Birmingham's heritage as many orphan and destitute children were housed here before being sent to start new lives, particularly in Canada and Australia in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

"As St Luke's and the centre are the only two historic buildings on the site, their preservation, inclusion and reuse in the proposals seems vital."

IDP CGI of Barratt Homes' plans to build 772 units
CGI of Barratt Homes' plans to build 772 units

Barratt Homes said: "In preparing the application, consultation was undertaken with a wide range of local residents and stakeholder groups.

"We have also had detailed discussions with the local planning authority over a number of months, particularly in the context of delivering their vision for the Bristol Street and St Luke's Development Framework.

"The scheme will provide 772 homes over a range of types and sizes to meet local needs as well as providing high-quality open space and a series of connections with the surrounding area."

Birmingham Post columnist and architect Joe Holyoak added: "St Luke's could be retained and incorporated into the development and used to provide a number of different facilities which the new residents will need - a meeting room is one obvious facility which a redundant church can provide.

"One would hope that the planning officers and the planning committee would understand this. New developments need old buildings."

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