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Selly Park student project backed despite 'intimidation' claims

Birmingham's planning chiefs award go ahead for controversial proposal which will see historic building converted into 'world-class' flats

Pic: O'Connell East Architects
Planners have backed the renovation of Beechenhurst House

A city councillor has claimed she was sent an "intimidating" letter from architects behind the controversial conversion of a Victorian mansion in Selly Park into student flats.

Planning committee member Fiona Williams (Lab Hodge Hill) made the claim as plans to turn the historic Beechenhurst house, in Serpentine Road, into accommodation for 60 students was approved.

But developer Five Oaks Green insisted the letter contained legal advice to committee members to declare interests ahead of a vote.

Residents, hundreds of who signed petitions opposing the scheme, had protested that the Selly Park Conservation Area was not a suitable place for student accommodation and that it would double the population of the street, bringing cars, noise and nuisance to the peaceful neighbourhood.

But the developer argued it would be a world class halls of residence aimed at wealthy overseas students.

A council planning officer said there had been "aggressive campaigning" on the issue.

Pic: O'Connell East Architects CGI shows coach house which will become management building
CGI shows coach house which will become management building

Coun Williams said the letter was sent after the committee voted in December to undertake a historic assessment of the building - a former home of Victorian social reformer John Nettlefold.

She said: "I received a letter from the architects which I regard as an attempt to intimidate me."

She added she would vote according to planning regulations and pointed out the council's conservation advisory panel, which she chairs, had been supportive of the scheme as the extension would not be seen from the front and they were looking to put up a blue heritage plaque.

It meant there was no heritage reason to object to the scheme.

But Coun Gareth Moore (Con Erdington) said: "I am still not satisfied. We should be attempting to control the growth student accommodation in this area."

The committee voted seven to three in favour of the application.

Responding to the claims of intimidation a spokesman for Five Oaks Greens said: "We were surprised by coun Williams comments and it's been confirmed by OEA Architects that they have not corresponded with any councillors, but following the highly unusual deferral of our planning application on 17 Dec 2015 Five Oaks Green’ legal advisors, Marrons Shakespeares, did write to relevant senior council officers and councillors to identify important procedural matters that needed to be carefully adhered to in order to prevent a decision being susceptible to legal challenge which was not in the best interests of the Council or Five Oaks Green.

"Five Oaks Green are pleased that the council acted on that correspondence and that the development has now been approved it will guarantee the future for this historic building.

"It's acknowledge and understandable the concerns raised by objectors but believe they have been addressed. Amare Students who will operate the development will work with local residents to address any of their concerns that may arise in the near future. The development was scheduled to open in Sep 2017 but with this deferral in December 2015. A assessment will be made in the next four weeks whether this deadline can be met."

The warning was taken by committee member Peter Douglas Osborn (Con Weoley), who was advised to withdraw from the meeting as he had been involved in the setting up of the Selly Park Conservation Area, which he said was created to protect historic buildings like Beechenhurst from development.

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