The developer behind a £50 million plan to build student accommodation on the site of Birmingham’s former Central Fire Station has pulled out of a similar project in Portsmouth – reigniting the Aston “tombstone” row.
A proposed £30 million student accommodation tower in Hampshire has been abandoned by North Wales-based Watkin Jones for financial reasons after being dogged by delays.
The scrapping of the Watkin Jones scheme in Portsmouth has triggered another attack by Aston University vice-chancellor Professor Julia King on the Aston design, dubbed a “tombstone” by critics.
Professor King said in the aftermath of the Portsmouth abandonment: “Repeating the same action time after time and expecting to get a different outcome is not a clever strategy.
“With the original t ombstone-like design concept twice rejected by the planning committee I am surprised to see it brought back again. I trust it will be third time unlucky for the tombstone and Birmingham will follow the example set by Portsmouth.
“There is no support for an inappropriate building which will dominate the skyline, wreck a historic and much loved Fire Station setting and be regretted by all who care about the character of Birmingham.
“The revised proposal from Watkin Jones is very similar to the two previous proposals rejected by the Birmingham Planning Committee.
"In one critical regard it is worse as it would take up more space in the fire station courtyard area than before, creating a concrete and glass foundation which would destroy the harmony of the 1930s courtyard, which was for many years the heart of the community for the firefighters and witnessed some acts of history and endeavour that demand sensitive preservation.
“If developed in the proposed insensitive manner with a huge concrete and glass tower, the building will never again occupy a much loved place in the heart of our city.
“It is time to step back and call upon the city planning authorities to reject the proposal from Watkin Jones which will deface the Grade Two-listed Central Fire Station building and fail to properly pay tribute to the brave men and women who lived and worked here for so many years.
“It is now time for Birmingham to follow Portsmouth – in a nutshell, it is time to ‘topple the tombstone.’”
At Portsmouth, the city’s university says it is hoping to revive the futuristic scheme for its new hall of residence – dubbed The Blade – with another developer.
The 300ft delay was originally due to be finished next year in time for the start of the September year but has been hit by a series of delays.
University vice-chancellor John Craven said: “The university remains committed to the scheme both strategically and financially and hopes to be in a position to progress it shortly.”
It is understood that the final death knell for the Watkins Jones project in Portsmouth, on the site of a former Victorian baths, related to financial issues rather than planning.
The building was granted planning permission in 2011 despite concerns over its height and design. Residents and English Heritage had raised objections, claiming the tower was too big.
Jason Berry, director of development at Watkin Jones, said: “Our proposals for the [Birmingham] Fire Station have always been focused on bringing back to life a vital part of the city’s heritage in a sustainable way.
“The plans open up more public access to the building than has ever been seen in its entire history, as it becomes home to a vibrant new community of students.
“We have worked closely with city planners and the design team from day one, because we appreciate the sensitivities that apply to schemes like this.”