The chances of a 35-storey skyscraper being built at the heart of Birmingham’s business district in Colmore Row have taken a knock after the city’s Civic Society announced a change of heart and said it was now opposed to the “over-ambitious” £160 million plan.
In a statement the society said its opinion of the British Land Tower had shifted from one of 90 per cent support to outright opposition after looking in detail at the proposal.
The about-turn will be a blow to city council leaders, who spent more than two years negotiating with British Land about a suitable design for the sensitive site at the highest part of the city centre on the corner of Colmore Row and Newhall Street, currently occupied by the NatWest Tower.
The council thought it had reached a compromise over the height and scale of the development, in the Colmore Row conservation area, but plans for the soaring glass-fronted tower are now opposed by all of Birmingham’s conservation groups.
In joining the Victorian Society and 20th Century Society in calling for the scheme to be rejected, the Civic Society said the 441ft-high tower would be out of keeping with nearby historic buildings including the Council House, Town Hall and St Philip’s Cathedral.
Civic Society vice-chairman Glyn Pitchford said: “The developers have not listened or not taken into account our suggestions as to how they should have regard to the street scene in this city centre conservation area.
“The society accepts the need for exciting tall buildings in the city centre. This particular site has already an abomination of a tall building on it which, rather like the present Central Library, is fit only for demolition, and the sooner the better.
“But the replacement tall building will be built on what is about the highest part of the city centre and this surely must confer on the developer a responsibility to ensure its final design, along with the materials used in its construction, will sit comfortably with its neighbours and be in harmony with them, neither disharmonious nor disrespectful of them.
“We do think that British Land’s plans are over-ambitious, their proposed building, design, height and sheer mass profoundly not attempting to be in harmony with its neighbouring buildings in Colmore Row.
“Indeed, its planned height is now much taller than their original proposals last September and may not even be conducive or in harmony with the ambience of the cathedral square.”
Urging British Land to think again, Mr Pitchford added: “Currently we do not support their latest design, although we accept that there will be a tall building replacing the present one.
“We hope it can be set back after the first four stories and the materials used for cladding will attempt to match the stone facades of its neighbours.”
A spokeswoman for British Land said the company was surprised by the comments, since Civic Society planning committee chairman Paul Lister had written to the council on June 12 expressing support for the “very high standard” of the tower design.
“It would appear that Mr Pitchford’s views may not be aligned with those of the society,” she added.
Members of the council conservation and heritage panel hit out at the British Land Tower, describing it as “appalling” and “abominable”.
Members of the council planning committee, who will finally decide on the application, also gave the proposal a lukewarm reception.
However, city regeneration director Clive Dutton is recommending approval. He said the tower was appropriately designed and urged committee members to consider the 2,500 jobs that would be created as a result of British Land’s confidence in the Birmingham economy.