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Trouble In Paradise As Birmingham's Skyscraper Policy Vacuum Opens The Door To Trouble

The octagonal tower now planned for Birmingham's Paradise scheme.

Birmingham’s slow-moving efforts to rethink its dated skyscraper policy have cleared a path for more controversy.

Proposals for a 49-storey octagonal tower as part of Federated Hermes' £700M Paradise development are at risk of being torpedoed by conservationists.

The Victorian Society, the national historic buildings consultee, has objected to the plans on the basis that the tower would in itself damage the setting of Birmingham’s cluster of 19th century civic buildings, all listed. These include the Council House and City Art Gallery, both at Victoria Square.

However, the potentially more serious element of its objection to the 510-foot tower, which is due to provide 346 apartments, is that it questioned the growing cluster of towers to the west of the city centre, Architects Journal reported.

“This application should also be considered in the context of the several other proposals for tall buildings in and around the city centre, as in our opinion the cumulative effect of these proposals together is likely to cause considerable harm to the setting of listed buildings and to the character of the city’s conservation areas,” Victorian Society adviser Tim Bridges said in an objection to the city council.

Anxiety about Birmingham’s tall building policy has been growing since 2018 when the latest surge in skyscraper proposals became apparent.

City planners had been expected to complete a review of skyscraper policy during 2020 but the document has not yet been published. The current policy depends on Birmingham City Council’s High Places document, which sets the planning framework for tall buildings, and was published in 2003.

A review was announced in 2016 amidst suggestions that this could liberalise a policy that has, until now, confined tall buildings to Birmingham’s central ridge of higher ground from Five Ways to Lancaster Circus. That review is still uncompleted.

Since then demand for both residential and office high-rises has grown and developers have begun to look outside the city’s central ridge, identified as appropriate for tall buildings.

In the meantime, a series of planning disputes has erupted, most recently over Moda Living’s plans for a 39-storey Jewellery Quarter build-to-rent residential tower that planners admitted breached the existing skyscraper guidance. The council nonetheless approved planning permission.

Two towers proposed by Court Collaboration — one of  48 stories on the Irish club site, Digbeth and the other a 51-storey One Eastside build-to-rent apartment tower at James Watt Queensway — have also attracted opposition, including objections from other property industry players.