‘Brutalist icon’ - The battle to save Birmingham’s Ringway Centre in Smallbrook Queensway takes a new twist

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Campaigners fight to save the historic Ringway Centre in Smallbrook Queensway in Birmingham city centre as Historic England raising concerns

Controversial plans to knock down the historic Ringway Centre are set to be looked at again by Birmingham City Council following a bid to save it from demolition.

The authority’s planning committee voted to bulldoze the brutalist building in Smallbrook Queensway and replace it with three huge apartment blocks on September 28 last year.

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But opponents of the plan have previously called the site one of Birmingham’s most significant heritage buildings and argued the decision ‘flies in the face’ of the city’s climate pledges.

Last year a leading barrister, appointed by the Save Smallbrook campaign group, sent a letter claiming there were grounds for a legal challenge to the decision, referencing concerns raised by Heritage England.

It went on to claim the planning committee were further misled at the time by the planning officers’ report over the climate impact of the proposed demolition.

The campaign group added: “Full consideration was not given to the significance of the recent decision by the Secretary of State to refuse approval of the planning application for the M&S building in Oxford Street on similar grounds.”

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Ringway Centre, BirminghamRingway Centre, Birmingham
Ringway Centre, Birmingham | LDRS

Following this letter, the development will be considered again at a planning committee meeting to be held on Thursday, February 1. According to a new council officer’s report however, the authority is “of the view that the matters raised within the letter do not amount to a legal error in the decision made.”

“Historic England raised concerns, which is quite common,” it said. “But that falls a long way short of an actual objection. The committee report correctly set out that Historic England raised concern with the application, therefore the council do not share the view that an error has been made and are of the view the committee were not misled.”

On the M&S decision the new report added a relevant section of the National Policy Planning Framework, which sets out the government’s planning policies, do not create a “strong presumption” in favour of re-using the existing building at Smallbrook Queensway.

“Furthermore, there are no local development policies which create such a presumption and that is why the report to members was written as it was,” it continued.

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It added the M&S decision is the subject of a legal challenge “on this very point” and that “it is being argued by the developer that there is no strong presumption in favour of the repurposing and reuse of buildings”.

However the report also added it would be “prudent” to ask the committee to consider the proposal based on the assumption the M&S decision is correct.

“For that reason, members are being asked to consider that if there is a strong presumption in favour of re-purposing or reusing the existing buildings, should permission for this scheme still be granted?” it said.

“It is important to say that in reaching that decision it is vital that members appreciate that it is the particular circumstances in each case that must be considered.”

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These include “the ability to better optimise the use of this highly sustainable site through the redevelopment, the ability to best address the council’s unmet housing need and the various identified difficulties in re-using the building.”

It added that five additional letters of objection have been received, which have highlighted how the building is a “brutalist icon” and questioned why it can’t be refurbished into flats and community spaces.

The application has been recommended for approval subject to the prior completion of a legal agreement and will be reviewed at the planning committee on February 1.

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