Scheme returns to planning committee after legal threat from campaign groups

Birmingham council is calling on members of its planning committee to stick by their decision to demolish James Roberts’ brutalist Ringway Centre in the face of a threatened legal challenge from campaigners.

In September last year, Corstorphine & Wright Architects narrowly won approval for its proposals to replace the six-storey 1960s landmark on Smallbrook Queensway with up to 1,750 new homes delivered in towers of up to 56 storeys.

The decision came despite appeals from Stirling Prize-winning architects Níall McLaughlin, Peter St John, and Steve Tompkins to save the Ringway Centre, which is locally listed but currently also subject to a Certificate of Immunity from Listing that has just over three years left to run.

The Ringway Centre by James Roberts

Source: Mac McCreery

James Roberts’ Ringway Centre, on Birmingham’s Smallbrook Queensway

The 230m-long curving groundscraper was completed some years before Roberts’ other central Birmingham landmark, the Rotunda, which was granted grade II status in 2000. Proposals for retaining the Ringway Centre and converting it for housing use were floated at the end of 2022.

This week councillors are being asked again for their opinions on the Corstorphine & Wright scheme after lawyers representing campaign group Save Smallbrook – which brings together organisations including the Twentieth Century Society, Brutiful Birmingham and Birmingham Modernist Society – warned city bosses that errors related to the approval gave rise to two grounds of challenge.

Barrister Estelle Dehon KC said it had been wrongly stated at September’s planning committee meeting that government heritage adviser Historic England had no objection to the proposals, when the organisation had expressed concerns.

She also argued that the planning officers’ report that recommended the scheme for approval had failed to give full consideration to housing and communities secretary Michael Gove’s July decision to block Pilbrow & Partners’ redevelopment of Marks & Spencer’s flagship Oxford Street store because of its climate impact.

Ringway Centre redev 4

Corstorphine & Wright’s proposals to replace the Ringway Centre

The council has agreed to revisit the decision. But a report to Thursday’s planning committee meeting discounts Save Smallbrook’s key concerns and urges councillors to again approve the application.

Planning officers argue that the issues raised by Dehon do not amount to a legal error.

They said that the committee member who told the meeting Historic England had not objected to the Corstophine & Wright scheme had been “factually correct”, because the heritage body had not formally objected. Officers said this was not a statement that needed to be corrected during the meeting.

In relation to Gove’s M&S decision, officers said that despite the communities secretary’s words, a “strong presumption” in favour of the repurposing and reuse of buildings had not been created. They added that the retail giant was also challenging the secretary of state’s decision in the High Court and that Gove had overruled the advice of a planning inspector in reaching his conclusion.

Officers said their “firm view” was that Corstorphine & Wright’s Ringway Centre application should be granted.

The planning committee meets this Thursday to reconsider the application.