Birmingham planners have welcomed the Eastside Locks development – a £500 million scheme for offices, apartments and shops – but have called for everything possible to be done to save the remains of a late-Victorian factory.
While backing the latest phase of the Eastside regeneration, the city planning committee invited proposals to preserve the facade of the fire-damaged Belmont Works, which dates from 1899 and was originally the headquarters of the Eccles Rubber and Cycle Company.
Although it is not on the statutory list of protected buildings, the works do feature on the council’s own local list of important historic landmarks and also lies within the Warwick Bar Conservation Area.
Severely damaged by an arson attack several years ago, the structure is believed to be in danger of collapsing if restoration work is not carried out.
Planning committee chairman Peter Douglas Osborn said the building probably had a maximum life of three years before it would have to be demolished and he hoped it could be saved to form a “grand entrance” to the Eastside Locks scheme, which will see the transformation of a 14-acre site bounded by the new city park and the Digbeth Canal.
In its early years, the Belmont Works housed a rubber manufactory and was known as the Rubber Works.
By 1918 it was occupied by the Co-operative Society, who used the premises for manufacturing underwear.
In 1931 the CWS changed the use to a Piano manufactory, and in 1941 it was changed again to a bedstead manufactory.
Coun Douglas Osborn (Con Weoley) added: “The Planning Committee want as much as possible to be saved for posterity, but its great advantage to a developer is that it would create a sense of place in an otherwise modern development.
“It would be seen as an asset to the new community because it would stand out and be easily identified.”
Committee member Councillor Ian Ward (Lab Shard End) said: “We have got to try to save as much of this building as possible. I would certainly be reluctant to see it demolished simply because the council has not cared for it in the way it should have done.”
Developers Goodman International are expected to begin work on Eastside Locks early next year, subject to planning permission being granted.
The centrepiece of the scheme will be 675,000 sq ft of Grade A high-quality office space, which is being billed as one of the largest projects of its kind anywhere in the UK within walking distance of a city centre.
The rest of Eastside Locks is likely to consist of about 480 flats, a hotel, shops and units for small businesses.
The layout of Eastside Locks, which is a joint venture between the city council and Advantage West Midlands, will be low-rise and low-density and is being described as “exceptionally sustainable”.
Earlier this year a decision was taken to rename the proposed Ventureast scheme as Eastside Locks in order to reflect its canal-side location.