Expectations of excellence are running high for Martineau Galleries, the #550 million transformation of a vast rundown site on the eastern edge of Birmingham city centre.
City council planners are confident of repeating the success of the Bullring, and with good reason since the Birmingham Alliance, which built the award-winning shopping centre, is also behind Martineau Galleries.
An artist's impression of how the new Martineau Galleries will look with the 780-ft tower in the centre
The Alliance's latest venture involves the redevelopment of a 13.5 acre site between Corporation Street, Priory Queensway, Dale End, Chapel Street, Moor Street Queensway, Albert Street, High Street and Bull Street.
The mixed-use scheme is likely to provide 650,000 square feet of new retail space. A landmark 780-ft tower will contain more than 700 apartments, while a hotel and casino are also planned.
Martineau Galleries will replace a number of buildings that the council deems outdated, including the Priory Walk shopping centre, the Oasis market, Dale House and the NCP car parks in Dale End and Albert Street.
Council leaders have congratulated themselves at the speed with which planning permission for such a complex city centre project has been sorted out - a little more than three months after the application was first submitted.
The planning committee yesterday backed Martineau Galleries and referred the matter to the Government for final approval, which is expected to be a formality.
Clive Dutton, Birmingham's director of planning, said Martineau Galleries would be a "world beater" and even better than the Bullring. "It will keep us on track in our continuing renaissance as a world class city," he added.
The development would form a natural pedestrian link between the Bullring and Eastside, Mr Dutton said.
Planning committee member Peter Douglas Osborn was excited by the potential of Martineau Galleries to provide urban redevelopment of national significance.
Coun Douglas Osborn (Con Weoley) added: "This accords with our ambitions as a city.
This is something exciting and, dare I say it, iconic which will present us again in front of the nation as a city with imagination."
Not everyone, however, was so up-beat. Several committee members questioned the layout of squares and walkways, which were said to be too narrow. There were also concerns that the scale of development could block views of the Methodist Central Hall in Corporation Street.
But the most scathing comments came from CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, which said the initial designs were lacking in imagination and of an "anywhere, anyplace" character.
The Commission, which advises the Government on urban design, warned that Martineau Galleries was in danger of becoming an "elevational skinning exercise" and there were fundamental concerns about what was being proposed.
CABE was particularly critical of the tower. "Nothing suggests that this will be an acceptable place to live, particularly for those with children," CABE added.
The remarks were dismissed by Bob de Barr, development director for the Birmingham Alliance, who described CABE's concerns as premature.
Mr de Barr said the Commission had been commenting on an early outline impression of the scheme. Changes had been made since then and further changes were planned.
Mr de Barr added: "No one knows at this stage what the final appearance of the scheme will be or the potential tenant line up. We are looking for masterplan flexible consent which will enable us to deliver whatever is appropriate to the market at the time.
"We are determined to produce a world class scheme. Design is the key issue and we will not be found wanting."
Planning committee vice-chairman, Councillor Martin Mullaney (Lib Dem Moseley & Kings Heath) said: "We should stop quibbling over small details. It is not our role to micro-manage a project like this.
"We should instead be looking at the major opportunities that the scheme can bring to Birmingham." ..SUPL: