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Another Eastside row after theme park plans scrapped.

Byline: TOMSCOTNEY

The much-vaunted vertical theme park once championed as the centrepoint of a new Birmingham Eastside has been scrapped after the land earmarked for the 200m tower was handed over to Birmingham City University.

Advantage West Midlands, the owner of the site next to Millennium Point, said developer VTP Global had never come up with a financial plan that convinced it the theme park project would be completed and so decided to offer the land to BCU after its original plans for Eastside were scuppered by the proposals for high speed rail (HS2).

However, the developers, who had been working on the project for four years, has hit out at the decision to give the land to BCU, claiming it could have secured the funding if it had been given more time.

And BCU said its new site was only a "partial" solution, and it would still be looking to recover some of the pounds 30 million in costs it lost out on when HS2 meant it was turfed out of the site it had spent years preparing.

The vertical theme park proposals would have seen a 200m-high project described as "a leisure tower incorporating family and adrenaline rides, extreme activities, observation galleries and restaurants".

The man behind the project, Charles Pettifer, said he had hoped to use a successful Birmingham launch to unroll the concept in a number of other cities across the globe including Miami, Mumbai and Seoul.

The plans were rapturously received by council planning officials when they were first put forward in 2006, and formed a key part of the plans to regenerate Eastside.

But the VTP fell by the wayside as development in Eastside stagnated, and was eventually abandoned when land owner AWM handed the site over as a new home for BCU.

Mr Pettifer said his company was "extremely disappointed" at the decision to give the site to BCU, saying that he had been "very close" to securing the funding for the vertical theme park when the land was taken away. He added: "A significant amount of work and investment has gone into the design and plans for this particular site adjacent to Millennium Point and the VTP has been strongly endorsed and supported by the key stakeholders in Eastside as well as the people of Birmingham.

"As the site in question is only 1.5 acres, we find it surprising that another suitable site couldn't be found for the university within the Eastside area, particularly as large adjacent sites remain undeveloped.

"We would like to think that, even at this late stage, the authorities will reconsider their position as it would be very sad for Birmingham if it missed out on the opportunity of this major visitor attraction to either London or another major regional city in the UK.

"We are now making significant progress overseas and are close to announcing project finance deals for VTPs in Qatar and Delhi."

But a spokesman for AWM said the agency had given VTP Global more than enough opportunity to come forward with funding, and no satisfactory plans had ever been put forward in the four years of negotiating.

He said: "The HS2 announcement fundamentally changed the prospects for the development of Eastside.

"HS2 displaced the original site proposals for Birmingham City University and it was imperative that AWM and Birmingham City Council moved quickly to find an alternative solution for BCU.

"The sale of the 1.5-acre site to BCU keeps the momentum of the Eastside development moving forward at a critical time for the region's economy."

Meanwhile, BCU said it was still far from satisfied at the way things had worked out for it in Eastside.

The university had been on the cusp of breaking ground for its new pounds 123 million new campus when the council and the Government announced the site was to be used for a high-speed rail terminus instead.

At the time it said it would be looking to recover pounds 30 million in wasted costs from the taxpayer after having to put a halt on the development at such short notice.

After being told it would be given a new site by AWM - taking in the 1.4 acres previously earmarked for the VTP as well as patches of adjacent plots - the university said it would still be looking to go ahead with its full vision of 55,000 square metres of property in Eastside, a plan which would not be contained by the VTP site alone.

And while inviting contractors to tender for the building on the former VTP site that will be used to house the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design (BIAD), it said it had still not given up on its plans to claw back money from the taxpayer from the earlier disaster.

Peter Cochrane, the project director for the university's city centre campus scheme, said: "The high speed rail announcement has been a huge frustration and has meant that we needed to look at our plans again and fundamentally rethink our options. "Already we are in a position to begin the process to deliver an alternative phase one project to provide a new home for BIAD.

"However, this is very much a partial solution pending the full assembly of alternative land and the restitution of abortive costs associated with the original scheme."

CAPTION(S):

An artist's impression of plans for a vertical theme park and, right, how the Birmingham Post reported the story when the scheme was unveiled in 2006
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jul 22, 2010
Words:917
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