A property developer has stepped in at the last minute to scupper plans by the Jesus Army to open a drop-in centre for prostitutes and drug addicts in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter.
The group had wanted to renovate offices at 33 Lionel Street near one of the main thoroughfares from the Jewellery Quarter into the city’s business district but local businesses had appealed to planners to reject the scheme.
Officers from the council, however, were due to recommend the plans for approval after the police offered no objections.
However, property developer LMM Ltd, which owns the building next door, made a higher bid than the Jesus Army for the building, which was accepted by the vendor and completed this week.
Tony Haran, a manager at LMM, said: “Historically it is a building we have been interested in if the vendor would sell it. The Jesus Army emerged later.”
Mr Haran said the company’s mind was focused into making a second bid after the planning process looked like a “fait accompli” following emails suggesting the success of the application within an hour of the end of the planning committee meeting.
He said: “In the end we were left with little option as I didn’t think the objections to the plans were given proper weight. With the number of high-level land parcels in the area and then to have this on square one, so to speak, would seem a little ironic.”
The surprise development brings to an end the planning application battle which sparked a furious backlash in the Jewellery Quarter.
There were objections from the owners of bars, restaurants and hotels which feared their businesses would suffer from an increase in anti-social behaviour.
More than 250 residents and businesses signed petitions urging the city planning committee to throw the application out.
The protest was backed by the Jewellery Quarter Heritage and Regeneration Group.
Chris Booth, of Nattrass Giles, chairman of the Heritage and Regeneration Committee within the Jewellery Quarter Association (JQA) and Director of the JQA, said: “From the point of view of the Heritage and Regeneration Committee, there was never any issue with the Jesus Army as a group.
“However, to seek to start up a drop-in centre on the proposed boulevard – leading from the Birmingham CBD through to St Paul’s Square and into the Jewellery Quarter – would, in our opinion, not compliment the ideals strived for by the Birmingham City Council with its Big City Plan or the community groups within the Jewellery Quarter.
“Its inclusion would, from our numerous discussions with employers and residents alike, certainly not be conducive or appealing to businesses relocating within the city centre.
"It is a shame that, following numerous letters of rejection and a 250-plus petition raised by the local businesses and residents, the public’s feelings were completely ignored by the planning department within the city council and council leaders.”
Paul Skipp, director of Barques PR in Ludgate Hill, said: “We all recognise that there is a need for the services the Jesus Army wants to provide and that they are offering support to people that need it the most.
“The issue here, however, is that the location is completely wrong. This is an area undergoing regeneration and a transformation into a thriving hub of business activity. These proposals threatened to undo a lot of the good work done in recent years in turning the area into a place that businesses want to locate to.
“I was surprised that the planners failed to listen to the genuine concerns of the local business community but relieved to hear that the building has been bought by another party, effectively blocking the proposals for the time being at least.”