Plans for a 30-storey tower block over Birmingham’s disused Central Fire Station have been scaled down by seven stories in an attempt to get planning approval for the scheme.
The architect behind the development hopes the new-look tower, which aims to solve a shortfall in student accommodation within the city, will now get the green light.
Opponents dismissed a previous proposal as looking like “a tombstone” and concerns by city planner and members of the planning committee prompted a return to the drawing board for the designers.
Bob Ghosh, a director of K4 Architects, believes the new 23-storey “slimmed down” tower is the “best yet”, thanks in part to extensive consultation with stakeholders.
“Although it has been a long process, it is quite good to have considered a number of options and ended up with what we consider to be the best solution for the site,” he said.
“It is quite healthy to have had that engagement process, even though we have had lots of comments and objections, we have managed to improve the design and have something which we hope will be universally supported.”
Outlining some of the key differences he said: “We have adjusted the height so it is more in line with some of the new buildings going up in that area. We have also slimmed it down quite considerably. There were some concerns about it being bulky so we have given it a more slender form.”
Other changes include additional glazing, as well as a lightweight box on the top of the building that will glow at night and alterations to make it look “less solid”.
“There were some concerns it looked a bit too solid in terms of materials,” Mr Ghosh added.
“Also we have refined the actual cladding material and the solid metal panels we are using a much higher quality material than before.
“It is designed to both contrast and compliment the materials in the area and the listed building.”
Mr Ghosh said the consultation process to get to this point had been extensive.
“We always knew it would be a fairly complex process and all the way through have been engaging with a lot of people and genuinely believe the design we have come up with now is better than when we started,” he said.
“We have addressed some of the major issues that were raised by the city council and some of the planning committee members and have come up with something that will hopefully satisfy most of the stakeholders.”
The revised plan will also see a large part of the former fire station’s courtyard become new public open space and every part of the old building brought back into “meaningful use”, according to Mr Ghosh.
The latest design features management offices and retail space where fire engine bays were and a private study area for students in the former boardroom.
Parts of the old fire station will also be connected with the new tower.
Mr Ghosh hopes planning approval will be given in April, enabling developers Watkin Jones to start construction by the end of this year with a view to completion by autumn 2014.
“This is something that will have an impact upon the skyline and put Birmingham on the map in terms of providing a real state-of-the-art offering for students,” said Mr Ghosh.
In December the Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, Professor Julia King launched an outspoken attack on the earlier design which she described as “ugly and inappropriate”.
“I have already heard people christen it ‘The Tombstone’, which seems apt when you look at the artist's impressions,” she added.