Birmingham City Council is to ramp up the moral pressure on developer Quintain Estates in a bid to save the 100-year-old Island House building from demolition.
Conservative cabinet member for regeneration Timothy Huxtable has written to the company to offer council help to find a viable solution to halt the demolition order.
His cabinet colleague Coun Martin Mullaney announced that a letter had been sent as he joined protesters for a lunchtime rally in Moor Street outside the threatened three-storey building.
He stressed that the council was in no position to buy the building, but might be able to assist.
Coun Mullaney has already been involved in plans to turn the nearby Curzon Street Station into an art gallery.
He said: “This would make an excellent art gallery or cultural building. It might also be possible to extend it by two storeys without ruining its character. I don’t want us to lose this and I want to make sure the developers have looked at all options.
“Coun Huxtable is writing to them to see if the regeneration department can assist.”
Quintain says it has been unable to attract a tenant or make plans for Island House because the uncertainty around the High Speed Rail project has blighted the site.
Meanwhile it is paying empty building rates and has therefore decided to demolish and landscape the site.
Last week the council’s planning committee despite voicing its opposition, found itself unable to stop the demolition order, but was given some hope through an earlier Section 106 legal agreement through which Quintain committed to refurbish and restore Island House.
An attempt by the company to overturn that agreement will be looked at by the committee within the next few weeks.
Island House is currently wrapped in scaffolding and workers were filing in and out while the protest took place, although the company insists it has not yet begun full scale demolition work.
Meanwhile members of the Victorian Society, Birmingham Friends of the Earth, Digbeth residents and serial protester Ray Egan dressed as John Bull waved placards and handed out leaflets to passers-by, the majority of who were surprised and supportive of attempts to save the building.
Among them was Rob Sutton who took art design lessons in the building when it was part of Birmingham Polytechnic. He said: “This has survived German bombing during the war, it survived the students during the 1970s, but it seems unable to survive the demands of commercial interests. It is a gateway building and a beautiful part of the local landscape.”
Mr Sutton, a veteran of the Moorpool Estate planning disputes of two years ago, was a key speaker at last week’s planning committee and raised the matter of the section 106 deal.
“It is important that the City Council look into that agreement properly, it doesn’t seem right that someone can just scrap such an important building.”
Nicola Toms, from Acocks Green, said she joined the protest because she simply likes Island House. “I used to walk past on my way to Matthew Boulton College. I really like it and always enjoyed looking at it.”
Joe Holyoak of The Victorian Society urged people to write to the planning department objecting to the application to over turn the section 106 deal. He said: “They are proposing to unnecessarily and unjustifiably demolish a locally listed building of architectural distinction.”
Birmingham Civic Society has written to all members urging them to write in. Chairman David Clarke said: “The building is a memorable and important landmark in the area, and with its distinctive triangular shape adds character to the street.”
The company said it stands by an earlier statement that: “In the current circumstances, no tenant is interested in taking occupation of the building as they will have to vacate in a few years to make way for the new HS2 station, and we are left with a vacant building in an advanced state of disrepair, which attracts vandals and is sporadically used as a location for drug-related activities. Regrettably, the only sensible course of action is to demolish the building to prevent the anti-social behaviour continuing and then landscape the area.”
Hotel La Tour, which is being built next door, has stressed it is supportive of the retention and restoration of Island House.
Letters: Page 27