Birmingham’s disused Central Fire Station could be brought back to life as a transport museum or luxury hotel after controversial plans for a 23-storey skyscraper were rejected.
A new range of alternative proposals for the listed site at Lancaster Circus have been mooted following a study by Aston University, which opposed the student accommodation skyscraper.
A third set of proposals for the site, dubbed the ‘Tombstone’ by opponents, was thrown out by city councillors last week despite a six-storey reduction in height by developers Watkin Jones.
Both Aston University and Birmingham Civic Society said “potential better uses” should now be found for the prime city centre building, which has been empty for more than five years.
A public survey by the university produced a range of ideas for the site, including a mixed use development of flats, retail and heritage, transport museum with a glass roof or a boutique hotel.
Aston University Vice-Chancellor Prof Julia King said: “We are very grateful that our elected councillors have stopped a bad proposal in its tracks.
“We hope Watkin Jones will now see sense and realise how strong the opposition to their Tombstone Tower block actually is. Many people have a view about what the fire station should become, and we think it is important that these views are debated and considered.
“That is why we are working with the Birmingham Civic Society to try and capture these ideas.”
Paul Lister, chairman of Birmingham Civic Society’s planning committee, said: “We recognise that this is an important listed building that needs to find a new role, preferably with active frontages and public access to the previously private central drillyard.
“In our opinion the proposed tower was out of proportion to its environs and would impact on the listed building and neighbourhood in a negative way.”
At last week’s meeting, planning committee member Barry Henley (Lab, Brandwood) attacked the principle of placing a giant block in the middle of a listed landmark, adding: “The idea is bad, it cannot be improved upon.”
He criticised the developers and planning officials who backed the scheme for ignoring the views of English Heritage, the Victorian Society, the 20th century society, the council’s own Conservation Panel and architecture watchdog CABE.
But the scheme was defended by planning committee chairman Peter Douglas Osborn (Con, Weoley) who said the scheme was the only financially viable means of restoring the fire station. “We have to save this building.”
Paul Rouse, of planning agent Savills on behalf of the developer, challenged claims from Aston University that there was no demand for the 823 student bedsits.
But the committee voted by ten to two against the latest plans.