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Cold Custard: Birmingham's Unpredictable Planning Committee Strikes Again


A decision on Oval Real Estate’s 4.15M SF plans to redevelop a 420-acre slice of Digbeth has been deferred after members of Birmingham City Council’s planning committee criticised heritage impacts and consultation on the proposals, and criticised the way the plan was presented.

Consideration of the Custard Factory proposals was deferred by a 7-4 vote. A video of the meeting can be found here.

This is the latest in a series of idiosyncrasies in Birmingham's planning system. These include skyscraper plans having to be resubmitted a year after first being approved because objections were not reported to city councillors, and Birmingham City Council defending a claim that it breached its own skyscraper policy by insisting the policy is so old it doesn’t matter very much.

The bulk of the criticism of the Custard Factory plans revolved around the way the outline planning application affected the six listed buildings, including one listed grade II* and 22 locally listed buildings; as well as the wider impact on a further 17 listed buildings and structures and 46 locally listed buildings and structures. 

The outline application “rips down most of Digbeth” Conservative Councillor Gareth Moore said. He called for more detail on the harm, or not, caused to heritage buildings. Approving an outline application, without further detail, meant “we may find ourselves later struggling to control this,” Moore said. “I’m really, really nervous about approving the outline application because of the heritage impact on Digbeth.

“The detail is severely lacking … to justify the loss of such a large number of heritage assets.”

Several councillors also criticised the 165-page report for lack of detail and, until the day of the meeting, for not having an executive summary. “When I saw how long the report was I nearly passed out,” one councillor said.

“This is a ridiculously big document [arriving in the middle of an election campaign and] the cynic in me wants to think this has been done deliberately, because it is a monumental application," said Councillor Simon Morrall, also a Conservative. "I’m not convinced there has been wide consultation on this, either.” 

Morrall criticised housing at the Custard Factory site, saying it would conflict with noisy night-time economy uses.

Council officers responded that both the council and developer had consulted and that further development could be controlled through a design code, through caps on total floorspace, plan perimeters and building heights.

A proposal from Morrall and Moore to defer a decision pending a site visit and further information was approved.

Oval Real Estate has applied for hybrid planning permission for the development, which will take 15 years to complete and involve the redevelopment of 67 plots.

Oval consulted planners in December 2019 about a 3.76M SF mixed development on the site at High Street Deritend. These have now been replaced by plans for 4.15M SF.

Birmingham City Council is controlled by the Labour party, who are a majority on the Planning Committee. Labour have 63 members of the city council. There are 25 Conservatives, eight Liberal Democrats and one Green.