The chances of developers securing permission to build a skyscraper at the heart of Birmingham’s business district has taken a knock after the city council planning committee heaped criticism on proposals for a 35-storey tower in Colmore Row.
Members described British Land’s £160 million bid to replace the NatWest Tower on the corner of Newhall Street with a much higher structure as over-development on a sensitive site and out of keeping with surrounding historic buildings, including St Philip’s Cathedral and the Town Hall.
While most councillors said they liked the design of the proposed 441ft-high glass-fronted office block, they regarded the location in the Colmore Row Conservation Area as unacceptable.
The hostile reaction dealt a blow to the council’s political leadership which has described British Land’s wish to redevelop the prime site as proof that Birmingham remains an attractive business location even in times of economic hardship.
Council regeneration director Clive Dutton urged the committee to bear in mind the significance of the new tower, which could generate 2,500 jobs and attract global companies.
Mr Dutton added: “It is vital we continue to create the conditions for growth, investment and jobs.”
He said the size of the new tower did not breach planning guidelines in a conservation area and would not detract from 19th century buildings.
Mr Dutton told the committee on Thursday: “You have to remind yourselves what is there now. A 22-storey, obsolete, charmless building, not fit for purpose.”
The new tower, which would sit at the highest point of Birmingham city centre, has also been criticised by the council’s heritage and conservation panel.
The chairman, Paula Smith, said: “It is my duty to point out that every member of the panel raised their eyes in horror at the size and the impact on the rest of the skyline that this tower would have.
“It might be a wonderful building in another area but to have it smack in the heart of our heritage, I can’t say it’s the best thing since sliced bread. It stands out like a sore thumb.”
Planning committee member Mick Sharpe described the proposed tower as “awful”.
Coun Sharpe (Lab Tyburn) added: “The city centre is a wonderful place to look around and you see visitors from all over the world having their pictures taken. You have the Cathedral, the Council House and the Town Hall, it’s our heritage, and you want to put this thing there. Just how far do we want to go down the road to ruin?”
Ian Ward, deputy leader of the Labour group, was one of only two planning committee members to speak in favour of the application.
Coun Ward (Lab Shard End) said: “It seems to me that this building will fit in well with what’s already there. I don’t see that a new building has to be entirely the same as a building that is already there.
“We have St Martin’s Church in the Bullring alongside Selfridges, but no one has ever said to me that these two buildings don’t work sitting side by side.”
Planning committee chairman Peter Douglas Osborn said: “I remember sitting on this committee when similar views were expressed about the Bullring. But we are not a city set in aspic, we do expect change.”
He urged councillors not to “bury your heads in the sand” and to accept that many more applications for tall buildings would be submitted over the coming months in an indication that Birmingham was viewed by developers as a prime business location.
Coun Douglas Osborn (Con Weoley) added; “A potential investment of this magnitude is something weighing on our shoulders. We want to make a constructive contribution to the debate on this issue.”
Birmingham Civic Society has given a cautious welcome to the British Land Tower, but the Victorian Society described the proposal as an “incongruous leviathan”.
The planning committee gave permission for Birmingham’s summer beach, which will be open free of charge in Chamberlain Square from July 4 to September 14. The attraction, complete with palm trees and sun loungers, is being sponsored this year by the airline Emirates.