Historic England and city council’s own conservation team voice concerns over impact

A 48-storey residential skyscraper designed by Metropolitan Workshop is set to get the go-ahead for a prime site in Birmingham city centre, despite fears over its impact on the neighbouring grade II* Catholic cathedral and nearby grade I-listed Anglican counterpart.

Metropolitan Workshop cites Richard Seifert & Partners’ grade II-listed Alpha Tower in the city and Marcel Breuer’s Flaine ski resort in the French Alps among its influences for 2 Snowhill Plaza.

The practice’s plans for developer Hub would deliver 462 build-to-rent homes, along with terraces on the 46th, 24th and 14th floors – as well as at podium level. There would also be a commercial unit fronting Snow Hill Queensway.

The 0.18ha development site currently hosts a two-storey run of disused commercial units with surface parking at the rear. It is immediately north of West Midlands Police’s Lloyd House headquarters, and south of the 20-storey Holiday Inn Express hotel. A report to councillors says Hub has been unable to secure the leasehold of one of the units on the development site, but has commissioned a design that takes the situation into account.

Both government heritage adviser Historic England and Birmingham Civic Society have expressed concerns about the Metropolitan Workshop proposals. Birmingham City Council’s own conservation team called for the plans to be rejected.

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Metropolitan Workshop’s Birmingham tower, seen from Weaman Street at the rear

Historic England said the proposed tower would be one of the tallest buildings in Birmingham and would harm the character and appearance of the Augustus Pugin-designed St Chad’s Cathedral, and that of other prominent listed landmarks.

However, it suggested that the impact would be “at the lower end of ‘less than substantial harm’” in the language of the National Planning Policy Framework. Historic England said it was “vital” that Birmingham City Council was “fully satisfied” that it understood the impact of the Metropolitan Workshop proposals before approving the scheme.

Birmingham Civic Society has objected to the application, arguing that it is around 10 storeys too tall for the site and will affect the setting of St Paul’s Church in the Jewellery Quarter and the grade I-listed St Philip’s Cathedral, both of which are around 500m from the development site.

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The city council’s conservation team cited the proposed tower’s impact on St Philip’s Cathedral, which was designed by Thomas Archer, in its call for rejection.

Recommending the proposals for approval ahead of this week’s Planning Committee meeting, city planning officers said Metropolitan Workshop’s design was an acceptable option for a “difficult” site in an area where tall buildings are “common and generally supported”.

Officers said the council’s design manager considered the building’s design to be an “exciting and dramatic form” that should “weigh favourably” in the overall planning balance.

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Metropolitan Workshop’s tower, seen from Corporation Street. Grade II-listed Birmingham Children’s Hospital is in the foreground

The report noted the conservation team’s objection, but said the public benefits of the scheme outweighed the “less than substantial harm” caused to the setting of St Philip’s Cathedral.

It added that the development team’s failure so far to secure the entirety of the site – leaving one leasehold unit on the north-west edge – was a “serious concern”.

The report said it was unlikely that the “retained” section of the building would be redeveloped in its own right if it was not incorporated into the current plans.

Members of Birmingham City Council’s Planning Committee meet at 11am on Thursday to consider the proposals.

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Source: Google Maps

Snow Hill Queensway in Birmingham. The site proposed for Metropolitan Workshop’s tower is in the exact centre of the image.