The site of the former Birmingham Post and Mail building in the city centre is being transformed into the ‘Taj Mahal of car parks’.

Construction work has started at the largest underground building site in Birmingham for a six-storey underground car park called B4.

Its developers, Chatham Billingham Investments, and designers, Associated Architects, say it will ‘stand out from any other car park in Birmingham’, offering ‘a unique car parking experience’.

It will use the latest technology such as automatic number plate recognition and a dedicated website where members can load multiple number plates, negating the daily glovebox scramble for loose change each time the car park is used.

The second phase will be a multi-storey building sitting above the car park. Outline consent has been obtained to establish the height and massing of the building, which could be more than 20 storeys high.

And this is no ordinary hole in the ground.

The site’s Printing House Street address will give away its importance to journalists and media workers as the former Post & Mail offices which used to look over Colmore Circus and reached six storeys underground, housing the newspaper group’s presses, its ‘goldfish bowl’ newsroom and assorted offices and shared spaces.

The John Madin-designed Post & Mail tower was a well-known landmark on Birmingham’s skyline before its demolition in 2005 to be replaced by Colmore Plaza.

The remaining two-storey office which formed part of the complex was sold to Chatham Billingham by Post & Mail parent company Trinity Mirror in 2008 and the newspapers moved to their current Fort Dunlop office.

The old Post and Mail building site viewed from Weaman Street
The old Post and Mail building site viewed from Weaman Street

The former press halls reached down six storeys below ground to accommodate the vast machinery and ink and newsprint stores and the space they left behind is perfect for a development such as this.

Phase one will deliver the car park, a two-storey mixed-use ‘podium’ above and a retail arcade. Contractor Balfour Beatty is half way through a two-year contract with a completion date of winter 2014.

The scale of the building work, most of which takes place underground, presented unique challenges for Balfour Beatty, to safeguard neighbouring buildings.

Before any demolition could take place, a new structure was built around the existing one to retain the walls, a feat of engineering in itself.

Steve Young is Balfour Beatty’s site agent for the B4 development.

“There will be six floors of basement parking up to ground level. Above that will be two floors of mixed use development,” explained Mr Young.

“We’ll build a roof on the second floor and then when the next stage of development is confirmed, the developer can take the roof off and carry on upwards.”

Mr Young explained how some original features will be kept.

“The old drainage pit for printing ink and other waste is still there and will be kept to house a new pumping station,” he said.

“And even though we’re 20 metres below street level there’s another four metres of crawlways below us that give even more access.”

Mr Young had no shortage of archive material for research.

“We have lots of photographs showing the original building work. It has been great to go through the Post & Mail photography archives to see how the original building was made and this helped,” he said.

Construction manager Norman Spence, who has travelled the world working on building projects, explained how this sort of development is a one-off.

“It’s been a really interesting job,” said the 66-year-old.

“We’re putting a new building in but we haven’t taken away the old Post & Mail because the four surrounding walls will be kept. You’ve kept the heart of the Post & Mail to create a new development and it’s incredible that the original structure will potentially support a 30-storey building when you add the six storeys of the car park to the new tower.

The Facts

Area: Birmingham city centre

Developer: Chatham Billingham Investments

Designer: Associated Architects

Building contractor: Balfour Beatty

Size: Six-storey underground car park, potential for 30 storey mixed-use tower

Completion: Winter 2014