Strict planning rules enforced in Birmingham, restricting the demolition of buildings in conservation areas, make for sound common sense.

It would be extremely unwise to allow developers to bulldoze structures in areas of special importance on a vague promise that a replacement of equal merit will be built at some unspecified future date, when money allows. It is precisely because construction companies, albeit with the best of intentions, cannot always be relied upon to keep their word that the city council Planning Committee insists on a binding contract for replacement being signed before allowing demolition in a conservation area.

An application by developers Chord Deeley to allow demolition of six empty buildings in the Jewellery Quarter before completing a contract to build hotels and apartments on the site would set a dangerous precedent if approved. The firm’s explanation for why it wants special treatment – that the vacant buildings are a hot-bed of criminal activity and drug users – could hardly be described as a unique circumstance in Birmingham, and might well be seized upon by other firms eager to get unwanted buildings off their hands. The city council’s Head of Conservation, Christopher Hargreaves, makes the obvious point that if demolition at the whim of a developer is permitted in the Jewellery Quarter, what might happen in the Colmore Row Conservation Area where British Land, the owners of the NatWest Tower, could save a huge amount of money on payment of empty properties rates by flattening the building?

The council would be daft to permit any important building to be knocked down without securing an agreement to replace it, particularly in the present economic climate. But that’s what could happen, if the rules are relaxed.