Birmingham City Council is refusing to rule out a landmark high-rise tower being built in historic Colmore Row, despite angry protests from the Civic Society.
Ken Hardeman, the city's regeneration cabinet member, said he did not accept that a site on the corner of Colmore Row and Newhall Street, presently occupied by the 17-storey NatWest Tower, was unsuitable for an even taller building.
City Council officials expect a planning application to come from British Land, which is understood to be in the process of buying the prestige site for #21 million.
Coun Hardeman (Con Brandwood) said any application for a replacement tower would be judged on its merits, but would have to be of exceptional design in order to be approved.
Civic Society planning committee chairman Stephen Hartland believes the site, which is part of the Colmore Row conservation area , is unsuitable for a modern high-rise tower.
Mr Hartland said: "We cannot and should not repeat the mistakes of the 1960s and the sooner NatWest Tower comes down the better. However, to replace it with something as high would make us fools.
"The Civic Society has majored on quality of design and materials and oppose any building that might be termed a tower on his site.
"This site is bang in the middle of the conservation area in amongst what may be regarded as some of the finest commercial buildings in the region."
The Civic Society wants to see a replacement for the NatWest Tower of no more than six storeys, sympathetically designed to blend in with the older buildings in Colmore Row.
However, the council's Tall Buildings Strategy identifies the Birmingham Ridge, which runs along Colmore Row, as suitable for the development of high-rise buildings up to a maximum 40 storeys to create a "memorable skyline".
Mr Hartland said: "Colmore Row is Birmingham's number one conservation area which should be protected and enhanced.
"I wouldn't say you enhance an area that is predominantly Victorian buildings by smacking a great big tall building in the middle. It would stick out like a sore thumb."
Civic Society members met with council planning officials yesterday to express their concerns. Coun Hardeman said he would take on board the views of the Civic Society and any other organisation wishing to comment but he was refusing to "rule anything in or anything out" at this stage.
A decision on any application for a high-rise tower would be a matter for the planning committee.
Coun Hardeman added: "I certainly hope we can get something special here because it is a very prominent site. We have the opportunity to create a skyline on the ridge that will make this city distinguishable, but the planning committee will determine whether a tall building is acceptable on this site."
A spokeswoman for British Land declined to comment on the NatWest site until "if and when" a deal to buy the land has been concluded.
>> You can view a diagram of Birmingham's tall buildings at skyscraperpage.com .