Heritage watchdogs have poured scorn on long-awaited proposals to replace Birmingham Central Library and completely redevelop Paradise Circus.
Last month developer Argent – in partnership with the city council and Gary Taylor’s Altitude Real Estate – unveiled outline plans for the eight-acre site for consultation with a view to a planning application being submitted in the near future.
Under the proposals, the John Madin-designed Central Library would be pulled down and replaced with a mixed use scheme including new offices, public squares and a new concert hall for Birmingham City University’s school of music as well as seeing significant remodelling of the roads in the area.
However, when members of the city council’s Conservation and Heritage Panel were given details of the scheme, they declared it “appalling” and “dreadful”.
Barbara Shackley, from the Warwickshire Gardens Trust, said the proposed building immediately next to the Town Hall was “too high” and should be smaller.
George Demidowicz, from Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society, said he disliked the scheme so much, he did not know where to begin with his criticisms.
“I despair, I cannot understand this one at all. It’s a collection of buildings all massing up behind the Town Hall in the most appalling manner,” he said. “This is massing up to create as much commercial space as possible – it is a dreadful scheme.”
His misgivings about the development were shared by Andy Foster from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
He agreed with Mr Demidowicz about the “massing up” of buildings behind the Town Hall and was also unhappy about opening up Congreve Passage.
“These new buildings are going to be a sheer mass of volumes. This is an extremely poor plan,” he said.
“It is poor, uninspired, over-massed and over-bearing and has been driven by the political will to get rid of the Central Library.”
Despite the comments from the panel, Rob Groves, project director at Argent, said the extensive second phase of consultation – that took place over almost a week – had received a much more positive response.
He said: “The issue of building height in the proposed development was raised during the public consultation and is being assessed by the project team.
"However, the great majority of visitors to the public exhibition were very supportive of all elements of the proposals and we are working with English Heritage and the city’s conservation and public realm team to develop them further.
“The Conservation and Heritage Panel should be assessing the impact of the development on the historic fabric of the city, but their comments appear to be based purely on opposition to the redevelopment proposals.
"These will see a series of mostly unloved and under-utilised buildings and land, currently land locked by the Paradise traffic circulatory, transformed into a more open and usable space with buildings that Birmingham can be proud of.
“There has to be a commercial element to any development to make it viable, but the driving force behind the proposals was a desire to open up vistas to and from the historic civic buildings and to provide public space that would improve connections to other parts of the city.”