New proposals for the rebirth of Birmingham’s former Central Fire Station as an urban village to house students have been resubmitted – replacing previous plans dubbed ‘the tombstone’.
The £8 million plans, which include features such as living pods in the station’s old ballroom and studio flats in the drill tower, to house more than 400 students, have been submitted to Birmingham City Council.
The urban village is targeted at students studying at nearby Aston University or Birmingham City University. Other units will be housed in converted firemen’s family flats as well as a slender new six-storey glass block in the courtyard.
Developer Watkin Jones and Birmingham architects K4 will be hoping for a better response than the last proposal for the site – a 30-storey tower which was criticised by Aston University and the city’s planning committee.
The new design sees the insertion of 13 studio pods into the dramatic, barrel-vaulted ballroom space.
The project will generate 463 student bedspaces in a number of innovative configurations, including studios, clusters and flatshares, as well as shops, bars and leisure amenities for students.
Architect Bob Ghosh said he had to deal with a range of complex challenges presented by the Grade II-listed building.
He said: “We’ve opened up basement and attic space, but the real excitement came when we hit on the plan of creating living pods which could be inserted into the large ballroom space without unduly damaging this magnificent room.
Then we recognised the potential of putting studios into the old drill tower, which will probably become the coolest and most in-demand student digs in the cities.”
The 1930s structure has been added to over the years, and all these additions will be removed to expose original features.
Jason Berry, development director of Wales-based Watkin Jones, said: “Of the £28 million build costs, we are investing £8 million alone into the conservation work required to protect and preserve this historic building.
“Although there is no tower, the proposals go beyond ‘textbook conservation’, where the interventions are still bold and challenging in their own right. We have now increased the conversion aspect of the listed building, including basement spaces and the Drill Tower.
“There will be 463 new student units in this development, ranging from studio bedsits, through three- and four-bedroom clusters to duplex apartments. We think this can’t come at a better time for the city as the vibrant learning quarter grows around Eastside and Millennium Point.
“This development will help put Birmingham head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to creating a destination city for students.”
In a letter to planners, English Heritage said: “The revised scheme has addressed English Heritage’s concerns about impact on the conservation area by significantly reducing the height of the building.
The impact on the listed building involves elements of demolition but the amount is justified by the benefit of bringing the building back into use.”
The applications for planning and listed building consent are due be determined next month. If approved, work will start in spring, with opening in autumn 2014.