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Whitby's 27-storey tower blueprint 'abominable'.

Byline: NEIL ELKES Local Government Correspondent

A27-storey tower block which is planned near Selfridges, the Bullring and St Martin's Church, has been described as 'abominable' by Birmingham conservationists.

The city's architecture watchdog has slammed the pounds 200 million Beorma Quarter plans as out of character, distressing and lacking in architectural merit.

Appearing before the city's Conservative and Heritage Panel architect Trevor Horne defended his creation as a 'curious' building which reflected the history of the city and could be as iconic as the neighbouring Selfridges building.

The Kuwaiti-backed scheme has the support of city leader Mike Whitby who held talks with developer Salhia Investments during his recent tour of the Middle East and sees it as a major boost for Birmingham during difficult economic times.

The tower would stand at one of the oldest parts of the city and is a collection of blocks which mirror the 12th Century plots, or burgages, along which the existing buildings on the site are arranged.

Panel member Andy Foster, of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, loathed the cantilevered blocks extending from the tower.

He said: "It's abominable. It's like a punch in the face by an architectural fist. It has no relation to place or location, it is out of scale with the buildings around it. It's like something from Alice in Wonderland, a place where the normal rules don't apply."

He added that for a commercial office block it lacked any beauty or architectural merit and his views were echoed by other members of the panel who fear that the role of St Martins Church as the gateway to the city centre would be lost.

His concerns were echoed by Tim Bridges, representing Birmingham's Victorian Society.

And Eva Ling, who represented the Twentieth Century Society said St Martin's Church was already a gateway to the city and the tower block was not needed. Nobody on the panel spoke in favour of the project.

The panel's views will be put to a future meeting of the planning committee.

Architect Trevor Horne told the panel that the idea was to preserve the history of the site in the tower: "It is a curious building. People don't normally build like that, they just produce squares and build up. I hope that people will ask 'why is it like that?' and find out there is a history and that the building mirrors the burgage plots."

The tower is part of the wider Beorma Quarter development, named after an Anglo-Saxon ruler from where the name Birmingham is derived, which will regenerate the run-down area of Digbeth opposite Selfridges.

A Victorian Cold Store building, which has a preservation order, will also be restored and renovated although the panel is critical of plans to demolish its rear boiler house extension.

Developer Salhia Investments is backed by Kuwaiti cash is one of the few major schemes not affected by the credit crunch and a company spokesman confirmed that if given planning approval in the coming weeks work could begin before the end of the year.

He said: "We were delighted to present this exciting urban regeneration scheme and are hopeful that the city can benefit from such a significant investment in its future."

CAPTION(S):

An artist's impression of the the Beorma Quarter plan alongside St Martin's Church
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 10, 2009
Words:551
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