Unpopular plans for a ‘tombstone’ like tower rising above Birmingham’s historic Central Fire Station have been scrapped and replaced with a much smaller design.
Architects have now unveiled plans for modest six storey building in the fire station’s triangular courtyard after successive proposals for a 30-storey, then a scaled back 23-storey tower were overwhelmingly rejected by city councillors.
Now the scaled down design for the student apartment block has received a much warmer reception from the city council’s Conservation and Heritage Panel than its predecessor.
Developer Watkin Jones is behind the £50 million scheme to convert the 1935 built Grade II listed building into a modern apartment block ready to serve the influx of students coming to study at both Aston University and the City of Birmingham University – which has plans to relocate to the Eastside area.
After seeing his tower block vision, likened to a tombstone by critics and dismissed as overly domineering of a key heritage asset, refused they went back to the drawing board.
Since being vacated by the Fire Service in 2006 the building has been empty. One of its few recent uses has been as the scene of a gangland torture in BBC police drama Line of Duty.
Developer Watkin Jones had argued that the tower would deliver more than 800 flats to make the scheme financially viable – but the revised development now has room for 460 students.
The existing fire station building, which included living quarters for fire fighters and their families, will be converted into a larger number of student flats, about 312 in total including several basement studio apartments at a lower ground floor level and the eight storey hose tower converted into eight flats.
A new low rise six storey building within the courtyard, with 151 bed spaces, would be angled at its ends in keeping with the triangular layout of the fire station. It will also be finished in Portland Stone and glazing, in keeping with the historic building. The row of shops fronting Aston Street will be modernised.
The only controversial part of the scheme is a modern two-storey roof extension on the Potter Street elevation, which used to be a rooftop playground. The conservation panel has asked for the design this to be amended.
Panel chairman Coun Barry Henley (Lab, Brandwood) was a staunch critic of the tower block scheme when it came to planning committee earlier this year.
But after viewing the fresh plans he said: “We have a much lower building in the centre which we have been assured will not be seen from outside, apart from a small gap under the archway.
“The panel were very happy with it. They were keen that it does not show above the top of the station.”
He said that their concerns over the Potter Street side were a minor issue which could be easily overcome by the designers. The proposals are currently at the consultation phase and no formal planning application has yet been submitted.
Neither Watkin Jones, nor K4 Architect were available for comment.
But speaking earlier this year, after the first scheme was refused, K4 founder Bob Ghosh described the conversion as a most challenging project.
He said: “We see this as a setback, but it hasn’t dampened our enthusiasm for the project.
"We remain fully committed to working with the [developer] Watkin Jones and Birmingham City Council to find a resolution to this site, which is possibly the most complex design challenge in the city – perhaps even the country.”