Campaigners fail in last-ditch attempt to sink Corstorphine & Wright’s plans to replace brutalist landmark with three residential towers

The Ringway Centre

The 1960s Ringway Centre is set to be demolished following a second council vote approving plans by Corstorphine & Wright to replace it with three residential towers

Birmingham councillors have voted to approve the demolition of the Ringway Centre for the second time in the face of a legal challenge brought by campaigners.

The council’s planning committee voted seven for and four against Corstorphine & Wright’s 1,750-home plans to replace the brutalist landmark with three residential towers up to 56 storeys.

The Twentieth Century Society, which was part of a campaign collective which challenged the council’s initial vote to approve the scheme in September, said it was the “wrong decision for the city’s heritage, environment, businesses and residents”.

Yesterday’s vote came 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.

Campaign 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 had 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.

Dehon had called on Birmingham city council to bring the Ringway Centre application back before planning committee members so it could be determined “with access to full information”.

But a council report ahead of the planning committee meeting had urged councillors to again approve the application and argued that the issues raised by Dehon did 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. 

Ringway Centre redev 4

The three towers would rise to 56 storeys and contain 1,750 homes

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.

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. 

Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud had joined the campaign to save the building ahead of yesterday’s vote. He said: ”It’s beautiful long thing, a ribbon of craftsmanship, of 1960s optimism, it comes from that great period of regeneration of the city. It’s under threat of being demolished and once it’s gone, of course, it can never be properly replaced. We need to be rescuing more of the city’s post-war buildings.”

Proposals for retaining the Ringway Centre and converting it for housing use were floated at the end of 2022.

An eight-page assessment by planning consultant Turley that looked at the feasibility of retaining the Ringway Centre was submitted to Birmingham council in support of the Corstorphine & Wright scheme ahead of September’s committee meeting.

The document was written as a direct response to Gove’s M&S decision and claimed retention of the Ringway Centre would not be viable as it would require works such as recladding, installing new fire-safety measures and repositioning floor plates.

Ringway Centre Birmingham (Image - Elain Harwood)

Source: Elain Harwood

The Ringway centre is subject to a Certificate of Immunity from Listing that has just over three years left to run