Plans for a 30-storey tower block over Birmingham’s disused Central Fire Station have been dismissed as looking like a tombstone by neighbouring Aston University.
Professor Julia King, Vice-Chancellor of the university, has launched an outspoken attack on the design of the “ugly and inappropriate” tower planned for the landmark site.
The vice-chancellor said she feared the project would see Birmingham in danger of repeating its architectural mistakes of the past.
“The fire station is a key component of the Steelhouse Conservation Area and the gateway to Birmingham if you arrive from the north via the Aston Expressway and the M6,” she said.
“It provides a first impression and as we all know first impressions count. If this tower goes ahead then it will not be love at first sight.
“Birmingham is the UK’s premier city outside London. It is vibrant and on the up. So why, when Newcastle has the Angel of the North, and Manchester has the Lowry, would we want such an unsuitable and unsympathetic focal point for our great city?
“I have already heard people christen it ‘The Tombstone’, which seems apt when you look at the artists’ impressions.
“When an earlier planning application was submitted in June, it drew heavy criticism from a host of civic bodies and individuals such as the Design Council, the Civic Society and English Heritage.
“They pointed out that Birmingham’s Big City Plan makes it clear that ‘quality of place’ is central to attracting investors, employers, workers and students.
“We are not sure how this proposed tombstone-like tower contributes to ‘quality of place.’ It will overshadow the low-rise architecture of Aston Student Villages, cast a pall over the Children’s Hospital and a dark shadow over Corporation Street.”
She said comments obtained from members of the public included “awful,” “a bit of a carbuncle” and “very gaudy”.
Prof King said: “Between now and January 12, 2012, when this planning application is discussed we will be doing all we can to work with other groups and with ordinary citizens to make our objections clear to this ugly and inappropriate tower.’’
The planned tower block has already been described as a “blot on the landscape” by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment while the city council’s conservation and heritage panel has described the tower as “ridiculous.”
Jason Berry, development director of developers Watkin Jones, said: “We understand that people will always have very subjective views on architecture and design, and we’ve made changes to the original design in reponse to the comments we received.
“But we believe the key issue when considering this development is the astonishing shortfall in student accommodation within the city.
‘‘Even with current developments under way, including Aston’s, only 38 per cent of the potential demand for quality accommodation from Birmingham’s 55,000-plus full-time students will be met.
“The fire station development is an important opportunity for Birmingham to say it is serious about closing the student accommodation gap and being the best city in the UK to come and live and study.
“This plan achieves three things for Birmingham. First, it makes a major contribution to the city’s appeal as a city for students by providing choice, value for money and stunning accommodation at a time when we simply don’t have enough to meet demand.
“Second, it brings back into use one of the city’s iconic historic buildings in a way that preserves all of its main features.
“Third, the tower is an impressive and contemporary addition to the skyline and continues the aesthetic already established by the Cube, the new library and other developments that happily sit cheek-by-jowl with older buildings.’’
Meanwhile, project supporter Coun Yvonne Mosquito, whose city council ward of Nechells covers the site, said: “I almost wanted to be a student again and live in one of the apartments.
“In fact of all the project proposals I’ve seen over the 15 years of being a councillor on a variety of matters (this) has been the best.’’