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Offices To Student Accommodation: Is This The Future For Secondary Midlands Workspace?

12 Calthorpe Road, as designed in 1962 by John Madin

If new hybrid working practises mean Birmingham needs less office space, what happens to the surplus?

One landlord has offered a solution: Unloved office blocks could be recycled as student housing, if proposals for a 127K SF block at Five Ways win planning approval later this week.

Local landlord Mercia Real Estate has proposed converting the block at 12 Calthorpe Road, Edgbaston, into 266-bed purpose-built student accommodation, plus a 123-room hotel.

The brutalist office block will have a two-storey, 31K SF extension added to the roof to make the project viable.

With demonstrable demand for student housing, but much less certainty about the future of workspace, the move is likely to prove a trendsetter in the Edgbaston area.

Assessments supporting the Mercia Real Estate application suggest Calthorpe Road could meet shortfalls in the supply of PBSA in the Selly Oak area. The University of Birmingham and Birmingham City University’s South Campus, both close to the site, have the highest number of students living in student digs or converted houses. As many as 11,797 students (or 52.6% of students requiring accommodation) and 3,870 students (or 47.7% of students requiring accommodation) respectively like in houses in multiple occupation. Mercia argued that the Calthorpe Road scheme would be well placed to respond to the long-term trend for growth in students choosing PBSA over HMOs.

Birmingham City Council planners conceded these points. “A need for the student accommodation has been demonstrated,” a report to councillors said. “The proposal would support the function of both the University of Birmingham and Birmingham City University as key providers of employment, culture, and learning in the city,” the report concluded.

The existing building was designed in 1962 by the apostle of brutalism, John Madin. It was part of Madin’s wider tower-block-strewn masterplan for the 1,600-acre Calthorpe Estate. There are two blocks at 12 Calthorpe Road, the tallest of 11 stories.

Brutiful Birmingham, the lobby group that aims to protect the city’s concrete heritage, hymned the monolithic blocks for the “subtle changes of depth allow a play shadows through the day which give a feel of lightness and grace”.

Concerns about variation to the original Madin design were dismissed by planning officials as causing “less than substantial harm”.