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Posts Tagged ‘Paradise Circus

Altitude sickness

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Sweeping changes have been made to the plans to redevelop Paradise Circus to better showcase the Town Hall and Council House, according to the Birmingham Post (14 September 2012).

Archant and Altitude Real Estate, the developers behind one of Birmingham City Centre’s major regeneration scheme, have agreed to shave the tops off buildings and widened walkways around the site following stinging criticism that their new buildings would over shadow the city’s prime heritage assets.

Under a planning application, submitted in July, the John Madin-designed Central Library would be pulled down and replaced with a mixed use scheme including new offices, public squares and a new concert hall for Birmingham City University’s school of music.

It will also see a significant remodelling of the roads in the area, including the removal of part of the Paradise Circus roundabout.

“Sweeping changes”? Tinkering with the height and spacing of generic boxes, is simply re-dimensioning mediocrity. Birmingham’s civic quarter deserves and needs something better than a rehash of the Brindleyplace concept, but that’s all Altitude have to offer. When it comes to city centre development, Altitude have only got one song. And it’s not a very good one.

The redevelopment of Paradise Circus is being driven entirely by Altitude’s commercial interests. The Madin central library is a distinctive landmark asset which ought to be retained as part of a rejuvenated civic quarter. There needs to be a new plan for the wider area, featuring enhanced public space, better aesthetics, and the restoration of usable pedestrian access across Paradise Circus, Suffolk Street, and Great Charles Street.

Written by beleben

September 14, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Tainted silver

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On 27 February, I wrote about Argent’s cynical proposals for the redevelopment of Paradise Circus in central Birmingham. On March 22, the Birmingham Post reported that when members of the city council’s Conservation and Heritage Panel were given details of the scheme, they declared it “appalling” and “dreadful”.

George Demidowicz, from the Birmingham and Warwickshire Archaeological Society, said

“I despair, I cannot understand this one at all. It’s a collection of buildings all massing up behind the Town Hall in the most appalling manner,” he said. “This is massing up to create as much commercial space as possible – it is a dreadful scheme.”

Andy Foster, from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, said

“These new buildings are going to be a sheer mass of volumes. This is an extremely poor plan.

“It is poor, uninspired, over-massed and over-bearing and has been driven by the political will to get rid of the Central Library.”

The Paradise Circus site

Laughably, Rob Groves, project director at Argent, claimed that “the driving force behind the proposals was a desire to open up vistas to and from the historic civic buildings”, transforming the area into a “more open and usable space with buildings that Birmingham can be proud of”.

There is a very strong case for creating open and usable space, and opening up vistas, but Argent’s scheme cannot deliver these. Distinctive buildings have value, and the Madin library‘s outward appearance is way superior to Argent’s generic boxes. It would be better to remodel the Central Library building for other uses, rather than make the city an international laughing stock. It should be possible to repurpose the Madin library, with improved access to its upper floors (by building a new staircase and lifts within the central court of the ziggurat).

Copthorne Hotel building

There is also a reasonable case for retaining Adrian Boult Hall, but the city would certainly be better off without the Copthorne Hotel and its ‘twin‘, used as offices by Birmingham council. Remodelling of the Paradise Circus area would need to address the poor pedestrian links and sightlines between Centenary Square and the council house, and that would entail significant changes to the road network.

Written by beleben

March 26, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Paradise lost

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No paradise: generic office buildingsWith the construction of Birmingham’s Inner Ring Road (Queensway) in the 1960s and 1970s, the area around Baskerville House in the city centre was altered beyond recognition. At some point in the early 1970s, the original plans to redevelop the Paradise Circus area were abandoned, and after the completion of John Madin’s Central Library, building work stopped.

Within a few years, the city council was deprecating its own masterplan, and describing the Inner Ring Road as a “concrete collar“. When Centenary Square was chosen as the site for a new central library — Francine Houben’s Library of Birmingham — it was claimed that the Madin library at Paradise Circus was structurally unsound. By demolishing it, the city centre could be transformed, with the creation of new vistas from Centenary Square to the council house and town hall.

I never bought the spin that the Madin library was structurally unsound, or that its demolition was intended to improve the urban environment or accessibility of the city centre. It always seemed much more likely that the site of the library complex was earmarked for whatever redevelopment would generate the most rent and rate income, i.e. lowest common denominator office/hotel/retail development.

In July 2011, the Birmingham Post reported that the city’s debts had doubled as a result of projects such as the Houben library and Birmingham Gateway. No other major English city has higher per capita borrowing.

Birmingham council and Argent (the developer of Brindleyplace) own large parts of Paradise Circus, and signed a two year exclusivity agreement in February 2009 “to prepare the way for the potential redevelopment” of the site. So, last week, it was not too surprising to find what the council had in mind: a collection of closely spaced generic office buildings, to maximise rental and rates income.

One of the major costs for the project will be the massive infrastructure investment and it is hoped that this will be funded through tax increment financing or TIFs. This effectively allows the project – which is being supported by the city council as a major landowner on the site – to borrow against the future business rates that would be raised by the scheme.

At the moment the site raises £1.5 million every year in business rates but the completed project would see this rise to around £20 million a year. The scheme will also be enhanced by falling within a proposed enterprise zone which offers various relief from tax and regulation.
The project is being led by Gary Taylor, a former managing director of Argent who recently launched his own development company called Altitude, as well as Argent project director Rob Groves, both of whom are quite clear about the challenges the site offers, both technically and reputationally.

Surely, if reputation were a key issue, Argent would not have put forward such a cynical proposal. Judging by plans put forward by other developers to create 21st century slums at Icknield Port, the crevice between aspiration and reality is turning into a chasm.

At the time of writing, the Paradise Circus development website states that the ‘recently extended’ February 2009 exclusivity agreement “binds the City Council and Argent to agree to negotiate solely with each other and not involve other parties”. Which is curious, because Altitude Real Estate LLP, established in 2011, appears to be a new party in the situation. According to Altitude’s website, its (ex-Argent) directors Gary Taylor and Stephen Tillman

will take forward Argent’s existing schemes at Paradise Circus in Birmingham and Ffos-y-Fran in Merthyr Tydfil, South Wales, fully supported by Argent which will retain a part ownership in both schemes. They have secured options to fully acquire Argent’s interest in Paradise Circus and also on assets in Argent’s residential land business which was set up by Tillman and colleague Robert Bolton.

Written by beleben

February 27, 2012 at 4:31 pm