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Big Screen to move to Victoria Square.

Byline: By Paul Dale Public Affairs Editor

The BBC TV Big Screen will be moved to Victoria Square, at the heart of Birmingham's historic civic quarter, following a dramatic U-turn by city councillors.

Three weeks ago the planning committee rejected approval on a split 7-6 vote. But on Thursday members unanimously agreed the screen could be placed opposite the Grade ll* listed Council House after all.

The decision means the screen can now be moved from its existing home in Chamberlain Square, where it has been for four years, to a new purpose-built site close to the Halifax Building Society at the bottom of Victoria Square.

The council intends to pay pounds 365,000 for a new, larger screen which will be 27ft wide and 22ft high.

It will transmit BBC news, public information and major sporting and cultural events.

Director of planning and regeneration Clive Dutton defended the site, which he said had been chosen after detailed consideration.

It would put Birmingham in a good light because a televised crowd shot during major events and broadcast nationally would show the Council House and Town Hall as a backdrop, he argued.

Conservation groups fought a long battle against both Chamberlain Square and Victoria Square sites, arguing that the ambience of Birmingham's Victorian civic buildings would be ruined by the intrusion of a large television screen.

Although the application for Victoria Square was not on the committee's agenda for Thursday, chairman David Roy agreed it could be considered as a matter of urgent business.

Committee vice-chairman Paula Smith said approval was given after members felt their concerns had been addressed by council officials. No member voted against granting approval, she confirmed.

Coun Smith (Lib Dem Hall Green) added that committee members were satisfied after reaching agreement with the BBC that the volume of the set would be turned down if it was felt noisy programmes were destroying the appeal of Victoria Square.

She added: "The volume was the only serious issue, but we have placed conditions on the application so that the sound can be controlled far more strictly."

Coun Smith said other locations in the city centre, including Centenary Square, would not have been appropriate.

"It has to go somewhere where there is a large footfall," she added.

The decision was described as "very depressing news" by Birmingham Victorian Society deputy chairman Joe Holyoak.

Mr Holyoak added: "Our objection is that a TV screen is just fundamentally out of keeping with the historic architectural context of Victoria Square and the conservation area of which the square is an important part.

"The intrusion of this loud noise source is very unwelcome. It is a very worrying development by the council.

"The problem is that it will dominate the square and you will not be able to turn it off.

It will be like going to visit friends in their house and you are trying to have a conversation with them when they have left the television on."

Glyn Pitchford, chairman of the Birmingham Civic Society planning committee, said: "The Civic Society is exasperated by yet another arrogant decision taken by politicians against the advice of their own paid officers. It beggars belief, when there are other more suitable locations for the screen to be sited."

Coun Peter Douglas Osborn (Con Weoley), who is the council's conservation champion, said he regretted the granting of planning permission.

Although Coun Douglas Osborn is a member of the planning committee, he was not allowed to take part in the decision making process because he has publicly criticised the screen in the past. He added: "I think television's Albert Square would be a more appropriate location than Birmingham's Victoria Square."

"It will be like going to visit friends in their house and you are trying to have a conversation with them when they have left the television on

Joe Holyoak

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How the new pounds 365,000 screen will look on its new purpose-built site close to the Halifax Building Society at the bottom of Victoria Square
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Sep 15, 2007
Words:672
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