The Planning HistoryThe planning journey since the close of the Christopher Wray factory in 2002.
On 26th November 2015, Birmingham City Council granted planning and listed building consent to a scheme to redevelop the site, and save the listed buildings between Bartholomew Row and Fox Street. This is a landmark in terms of planning for the site because as the timeline below shows, the project has been a challenging one.
Saving Bartholomew Row is difficult because the conservation deficit is high, and the footprint on which a new building can be built in order to cross subsidise that restoration cost is very small. The whole site is 30m wide at the front and 40m deep between Bartholomew Row and Fox Street. Only one strip of the site, along the edge of the Park, can be built on. This is the section containing the former Wray showroom which is set back from the road, and has a yard behind it. In itself, a 40mx10m strip is a very inefficient footprint for development, being not wide enough to have two rooms on either side of a corridor. In order to provide sufficient floor area it would need to be about 20 storeys high which is even less buildable than it would be desirable.
In itself therefore the site cannot support a viable development which left three options.
- Get grant funding
- Find adjacent land that can be built on instead to provide the cross-subsidy
- Demolish parts of the listed building to provide a larger footprint for the new building
As the following timeline shows, these options have been explored and exhausted, with the final solution being to save all of the listed building by increasing the new build footprint with a small triangle of the park which lies in between the southern wall of the site (image to the right), and the pathway into the Park. Although not large in itself at 170m2, this strip improves the footprint sufficiently to enable the new building to be an acceptable height, with the angle also helping to give a more interesting building form.
Planning Timeline (2002 – Today)
- 2002/3 Christopher Wray closes the factory after receiving an offer for compulsory purchase for the creation of Masshouse. Instead of purchasing his building, the Council decides to list it!
- 2003/4 Extensive marketing of the property after vacation by Christopher Wray’s lighting business. Grade II listing impacts situation but there are a firm offer is received from David McLean Homes who were developing Masshouse opposite the site. Offer falls away in December 2004.
- 2005 Property fails to sell at auction. Blamed on the ‘partial’ listing. Donald Insall Associates (DIA) appointed to advise on de-listing. DIA advise that de-listing is unlikely, on the basis of historic significance rather than historical merit. Focus changed from being an attempt to de-list to being a Planning Statement to clarify how the buildings could be developed to assist with marketing the site.
- 2006/7 BCC Conservation Officer gets involved. Agreement reached that some part of the buildings are more important than others which moves towards the publication of the DIA’s Historic Building Report which identifies the ‘Special Interest’ and also the elements that detract from the special interest and therefore could be removed.
- DIA identify major opportunities for the future use of the buildings, being re-building on the site of numbers 7 and 8 Bartholomew Row (i.e. the showroom and yard), and repairing, conserving and converting the “remarkable complex of historic buildings at 9-12 Bartholomew Row.”
- They further add “That these two opportunities can be taken in developing a single scheme allows the regeneration of a significant site particularly given the local authority’s intention to develop the new Eastside City Park to the immediate south of the buildings.
- 2008 Continued unsuccessful attempts to sell the buildings even with DIA’s report lead to an attempt by CW’s agents to have the building compulsorily purchased by Advantage West Midlands on the grounds that the listing has blighted it. Savills give a site value to another potential purchaser of minus £2m.
- 2010/11 PPS5 Statement completed by DIA. Argued that complete demolition of the structures, which would be permissible under ‘exceptional circumstances’ under PPS5, and if it can be shown that a designated asset cannot be used. Suggested that:
“The circumstances here can be considered to be exceptional; the buildings are in an exceptionally hostile location and blighted by heavy traffic and large scale development, and they are in a poor state of repair and would require refurbishment at a cost that would lie significantly beyond their end value.
No use, charitable or commercial, has been found during the last eight years of marketing the buildings. Their demolition, whilst regrettable, would be the only way of bringing the site back into use.”
- Planning application filed for complete demolition of the buildings on the grounds of total unviability, and the PPS5 Statement above. Planning application includes development appraisals prepared by Nash Bond which show negative £1.5m for a residential conversion scheme, and negative £1.0m for an office scheme, assuming a zero land cost.
- Planning application refused essentially on the grounds of insufficient efforts to save them.
Czero Enters The Frame
- 2012 Approach to CW’s agent on the basis that the building is worth nothing in its current state. Christopher Wray agrees to a deal with Czero “provided it means I will never have to come to Birmingham ever again”. The previous eight years of fighting have taken their toll!
- Meetings with BCC Conservation and Planning Officers establishing general principle of a mixed use scheme however it becomes clear that a scheme on the site alone is not going to be viable even with some demolitions.
- Glenn Howells Architects appointed to look at how a larger scheme could encompass neighbouring land.
- 2013 Discussions start with the Council’s Property Services Department (BPS) about possible acquisition of the site between the Wray building and Millennium Point. This would be used for a larger development that would be able to cross subsidise the repair of the historic buildings.
- Appointed local conservation specialists Apec Architects to review and update DIA’s Statement of Significance. Apec conclude as follows:
“Whist other buildings on the site contribute to the story of a three-century progression from domestic into mixed-use and finally light-engineering, they are, by no means, a rare example of such a conglomeration within the central Birmingham area. [contrary to DIA’s opinion] There is therefore a strong argument that the rear of the Georgian terrace should be given space to breathe. This would allow the most significant building to be viewed and fully appreciated. Subject to further research and investigation followed by a comprehensive and fully documented study and record of what exists, the sacrifice of some buildings of lesser importance may be justified in order to safeguard the future of the Georgian houses by focusing limited financial resources on the most significant elements of the site. […] Ultimately, the survival of the possibly unique, early Georgian houses needs to be ensured by a proactive approach. The buildings are suffering from dry rot, and procrastination will put at further risk a significant heritage asset.”
- GHA draw up a scheme encompassing the Wray site and adjacent site, keeping the most significant buildings (A, B & C) but losing the central later Victorian workshop ranges. This allowed a six storey residential building to sit apart from the most significant buildings, with courtyards, open space, and new routes through to Eastside Park. Proposals well received although Conservation concerned about losing too much of the historic building.
- Various meetings with BCC Property Services (backed by major development partner) for joint venture development of Wray building and the adjoining land. Partner also concluded that development of the site alone was not viable hence need for the adjacent site.
“The conservation deficit inherent in the Wray Building precludes development of the site without the loss of most of the historic fabric, or new build on parts of the site that would dwarf the remaining buildings. Indeed the owner made an application for total demolition on the basis that the building had been blighted by its listing, but was unsuccessful.”
- Proposal was for private residential on a rental basis.
- GHA proposals considered by the Big City Plan Board in March and further developed through the year, all based on inclusion of the neighbouring land. Main concern is the loss of listed building.
- Adjacent land is scheduled for disposal and marketed but then in September 2013 BCC withdraws the site from sale without explanation. This marks the end of a wasted year working on the combined sites, and the end of the involvement of the development partner.
- End 2013 New scheme developed for the Wray site alone, comprising student accommodation with a minimum requirement of 200 rooms above a commercial/leisure use on the ground floor fronting the Park.
- Key argument presented was that the Malthouse would have to be lost because the amount of footprint available for the new building was insufficient to give the 200 rooms necessary to cross subsidise the restoration work and give a viable scheme. Its central position on the site had a critical loss of floor area for something that added little commercial value. There is a trade-off between height of the new build and the amount of historic building lost. Losing the Malthouse would enable the new build to be only six storeys rather than 10.
- The scheme was considered to be much too massive and overpowering. Need for English Heritage’s input into the assessment of harm, particularly the proposed loss of the Malthouse. The argument being considered was particularly whether impacting the setting of the listed buildings by building a very high building next to them was more harmful than the loss of historic buildings. The planning argument being put forward was to justify the demolitions under the NPPF, arguing that there is harm, but the most significant elements of the building would be retained and hence the harm is outweighed by the benefit.
- Encouraged to ensure that as much of the listed building as possible, including Bartholomew Row, be converted into valuable space in order to minimise the additional new build floor space needed.
- A triangle of land adjoining the site, but forming part of the Park, had been identified as a possible swap for additional public open space within the development, which would give an increased footprint on which to build the new building, which might then allow more historic building to be saved for the same height. The proposed scheme included this land although no formal discussions had been held with the Council in terms of how it might be acquired.
- Dec 13 – Feb 14 English Heritage site visit. Further historical analysis of the Georgian buildings commissioned and undertaken by Apec. This discovers that this building is much more significant than previously thought, and is probably the only surviving example of a house of this age in Birmingham City Centre. Statement of Significance reissued. Planning officer conclusion that preference is to keep as much of the significant listed building as possible (as defined by DIA) and not lose the Malthouse. Adjacent height was a price worth paying for keeping as much historic fabric as possible. This was a clear steer for the design team.
- Negotiations with BCC over the triangle as this was now essential for the scheme to work. Letter of Intent signed by Birmingham property Services for the sale of the triangle in July 2014.
- Apr – Jul 14 IDP Architects appointed. Scheme developed using the triangle, converting all the listed buildings, opening up internal spaces, and a new build element at 10 stories. The circulation core goes into one of the internal courtyards to maximise the use of new build footprint. Pre application meeting presenting new design.
- Oct – Dec 14 Ken Fisher of Apec proposes that rather than convert the most significant Georgian buildings to student houses they might be gifted as restored shells to the Birmingham Conservation Trust. Trustees very keen in principle and arrange December site visit. This is shown to be helpful to the viability of the scheme. IDP alter drawings to remove the Georgian buildings.
- Advice from Birmingham Property Services, that the request for the triangle to be designated as surplus and hence saleable to us had not been accepted, but that the importance of the disposal to the scheme had probably been misunderstood. Major setback once again.
- Further pre application meeting and scheme development. Scheme becoming less viable as time passes with tender price inflation and introduction of Community Infrastructure Levy on student accommodation in Birmingham City Centre. Build cost per m2 now expected to be £1600, where it was £1400 two years earlier.
- 2015 Scheme develops using a podium and tower configuration, because it doesn’t prove possible to design a building at 10 storeys that doesn’t just look like an overbearing block. It is thought that a taller more slender tower rising from part of the footprint would work better, and still be in keeping with the surrounding tall buildings. The first version presented is 18 storeys and is considered to be too high.
- Increased investor demand for student studios increases potential values and enables tower height to the target height of 15 storeys. This target height has been agreed by working with planning department’s 3D visualisation model enables the impact of the tower to be considered in the context of surrounding tall buildings. Planners advise that houses should go back into the scheme so they are shown as residential conversions – maximise developable space.Negotiations with Property Services regarding the Triangle accelerate.
- Jun 15 Current scheme for 170 studios and maximum height 15 storeys published. Building opened to the public as part of Associated Architects and Birmingham Post’s “Hidden Spaces” exposition. Converting the Georgian houses to offices considered to be a less intrusive and higher value option than residential conversion. Positive feedback for proposals both from planning officers and the Conservation & Heritage Panel.
- Sep 15 Planning and listed building consent applications filed.
- Nov 15 Planning and listed building consent granted subject to completion of a S.106 agreement.
- Jul 16 Revised consent to adapt the scheme to Empiric Student Property’s specification, in a 185 bedroom configuration mixing studios, one and two bedroom apartments