Images of how Paradise Circus in Birmingham could look following the expected demolition of the Central Library have been released.
The indicative sketches by award-winning architect Glenn Howells form the centrepiece of a public consultation which is launched this week looking at proposals to redevelop the eight-acre site.
The controversial site, which is also home to the Copthorne Hotel and the Conservatoire, has been earmarked for a massive regeneration after the Government ruled last year that John Madin’s brutalist library was not of sufficient cultural value to list and work has already begun on its £600 million replacement in Centenary Square.
Argent – the company that created Brindleyplace – has an exclusivity agreement with the city council to develop the site as a joint venture and joint managing director Gary Taylor said it was important to get the public and other direct stakeholders’ views on the site as early as possible.
“I don’t think there is an area in any major city that has seen as many planning mistakes as at Paradise from the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s,” he said.
“What we want to find out from the consultation is what people really value around Paradise. Is it permeability and improving the area or would they rather the library was just left there?
“The consultation is about exploring all options. I think there needs to be some public or civic use in the new scheme – in an ideal world the Conservatoire would still be there but we shall have to see.
“At this early stage it is very difficult to be certain about how the scheme will look but I would imagine there will be a hotel element to the scheme as well as a residential use although office will play a large part in the project. The bottom line is the scheme has to be paid for.
“We would certainly look carefully about what the city needs regarding a residential offer but I don’t think this development will be about attracting families – families need space and there are better development sites around the city that lend themselves to this kind of development.”
The public consultation comes after years of wrangling over the site due to the popularity of the old library among some quarters – when the Government announced its decision not to list the building it admitted that it had actually received more representations to save the building rather than demolish it but felt there would be a wider benefit to the city if it was not listed.
These arguments have not been lost on Mr Taylor who is adament that under different circumstances the Central Library could have possibly remained at the heart of any regeneration.
He said: “The driving force behind this project is to create great streets and squares and connectivity. I am not of the opinion to do a scorched earth policy for the sake of it.
“The inverted ziggurat of the library is an interesting shape but it’s just made of rotten material which is falling apart. If I honestly thought we could come up with a solution that kept the box with a £50 million refurbishment and a good urban scheme I would pursue it.
“People have said wouldn’t it be greener to keep the existing building there but I have always believed that it is greener for people to work, live and stay in the city than live and work much further out and spend all their time travelling.”
Whatever comes from the consultation, there is no doubt that the end result will see a huge transformation of the whole area.
“We want to give buildings like the town hall and the council house and the new library the right setting and we couldn’t do that with the current library where it is,” he said.
“The general idea of our proposals are for the skyline to be lower around Chamberlain Square and then rising as it moves towards Centenary Square.
“One of the other fundamental elements to the success of this scheme will be exploring the possibility of taking Paradise Circus completely out the equation and making a T-junction between Broad Street and Great Charles Street.”
Glenn Howells – which also designed Eleven Brindleyplace and the remodelled Rotunda – said the sketches were aimed at bringing some clarity to a Byzantine problem.
“Paradise Circus is a complex site which presents the immediate issues of connectivity, historic buildings, public realm and sustainability alongside many others, which require careful consideration before moving forward,” he said.
“The sketches which we are sharing showcase our preliminary thoughts on how these issues could be addressed having considered technical restrictions and the commercial viability of the site.
‘‘The site offers huge potential to Birmingham from creating safer pedestrian routes and reconnecting the Jewellery Quarter with the city centre, to creating a sustainable mixed use environment with significantly increased employment opportunities.
‘‘Our aim is for Paradise Circus to be a part of the city in which people want to work, visit and socialise and we look forward to receiving feedback on our initial steps towards achieving this.”
Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby believes transforming Paradise is crucial to Birmingham’s long-term aspirations.
He said: “The public exhibition aims to outline our early aspirations for the Paradise Circus site to the people of Birmingham. This is the start of an inclusive approach to the redevelopment of a key piece of city centre land which represents one of the best development sites available in Europe right now.
“Whilst representing challenges it is also an amazing opportunity for the council and Argent to continue the process of transformational change for Birmingham, a city that has come so far over the past few years.
‘‘Our joint venture is the next significant step in creating a Birmingham that seeks to play a major role as an international destination in the future.
“At present the quality of movement through Paradise Circus is not easy and successfully improving this through the redevelopment of the area would be a major step in addressing the connectivity issues already identified in the Big City Plan and ensuring Birmingham has both a civic and cultural heart.”
n A public information exhibition on the proposals for Paradise Circus that have been developed by Argent, Glenn Howells Architects, transport plannerw Peter Brett Associates and Birmingham City Council is to be held on Tuesday, February 9, from 12-7pm and Wednesday, February 10, from 7.30am-2pm within the Paradise Forum mall.
It is likely that additional public consultation will be undertaken in 12 to 18 months time, before an outline planning application is submitted next year.
To see the initial concepts for Paradise Circus visit
from February 9.