Martineau Galleries, a #550 million redevelopment of Birmingham city centre, moved a step closer yesterday as planners threw their weight behind the "world class" scheme.
Members of the city council planning committee backed the mixed-use project, which will transform a 13.5 acre site at the eastern end of the High Street into shops, flats, offices, a hotel and a landmark 780-foot tower.
Building work could begin in 2008 and be completed by 2011, if final approval is given by the Government.
The council is hoping to repeat the success of the Bullring, whose developers the Birmingham Alliance are also behind Martineau Galleries.
The latest venture encompasses a huge site bounded by Corporation Street, Priory Queensway, Dale End, Chapel Street, Moor Street Queensway and Bull Street. The aim is to create a natural pedestrian link between the Bullring and the eastern edge of the city centre, opening up further regeneration in Eastside.
More than 5,000 jobs will be created in addition to about 2,000 temporary construction jobs.
Birmingham Alliance has promised to contribute #10 million toward transportation and road improvements when planning permission is granted. The scheme was described as a world beater by Birmingham planning director Clive Dutton, who predicted that the project would outshine the Bullring.
Mr Dutton added: "This is an exciting major addition to the city centre at the heart of the retail core."
However, a row broke out over the design after the Government's advisory body on architecture said the scheme lacked character.
CABE, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, warned Martineau Galleries could be "anywhere, anyplace".
The Commission was particularly critical of the tower, which will contain more than 700 apartments.
In a letter to the council, CABE noted: "The flats are not grounded and entrance lobbies are small. The flats would feel isolated and disconnected. CABE/English Heritage guidance on tall building indicates that outline approval should not be given."
The comments were rejected by Phil Crabtree, the council's assistant director of planning. He said CABE had been reacting to an earlier draft proposal.