Birmingham’s claim to be a modern global city has been questioned after planning permission for a 30ft high digital advertising screen was refused on the grounds it would spoil the view from the 19th century statue of Lord Nelson in the Bullring.
Scottish Widows wanted to display 12 static advertisements over a four-minute period on the top two floors of City Centre House, a building it owns on the corner of New Street and High Street opposite the entrance to the Bullring and the Pavilions shopping centres.
No moving adverts or sound was proposed and the screen would not have been used after 8pm or to show public events, sports matches or concerts.
However, the city council planning committee unanimously rejected the proposal yesterday after expressing concern that the structure would be “highly visible” from behind the Grade II* listed statue of Nelson, which stands about 300 yards away at the bottom of the Bullring by St Martin’s Church.
The decision was described as “disappointing” by Tim Thomas, representing Scottish Widows at the committee.
The company, which operates similar screens in Manchester, Glasgow and Liverpool, said the venture would have improved the character and appearance of Birmingham city centre.
Mr Thomas added: “Birmingham is a global city of significance in the UK and the world. The advertising proposed is of a type that you would find in every other major city in the world and it is rather unusual that one doesn’t already find it in Birmingham city centre.”
He said the screen had been carefully designed to fit in with the surroundings, adding: “This is cutting edge in terms of the technology and we are disappointed that the application has not been enhanced by the planning officers.”
While the committee was making its stand against high-tech intrusion, key councillors and officers were in America at the Chicago Sister Cities conference attempting to promote Birmingham as a major go-ahead player on the world stage.
Under the committee’s rules, Mr Thomas was allowed to speak for three minutes in support of the application.
Members of the committee made no comment on his remarks or on the suitability of the scheme, but backed a report by planning officer Richard Goulborn, which said rolling images on the screen would detract from people enjoying the statue.
“The application should be refused due to its undue prominence and negative impact on the visual amenity of the surrounding area, its poor relationship with the building on which it would be situated and the harm caused to the setting of the Lord Nelson statue.”
Mr Goulborn said the screen would be highly visible and conspicuous to pedestrians and its images rolling on a 20-second basis would draw public attention “compounding the negative impact that it would have on the amenity of the surrounding area”.
Developers Urban Splash also objected to the proposal, claiming the screen would be in the eye line of new apartments at the Rotunda and would “dominate residents’ quiet enjoyment of their properties”, while West Midlands Police was concerned the screen would be at a “pinch point” for pedestrians and could cause more congestion as people gathered to look at the adverts.
The committee attracted criticism from conservation groups last year when it approved the council’s own application to place a BBC TV Big Screen in Victoria Square, opposite the Grade 1 listed Town Hall and the Council House.
But that screen, which will relay cultural and sports events along with news and public information, is the subject of a legal wrangle between the owners of the Waterloo House office block and the council and has never been switched on.