Birmingham student blocks approved despite concerns over 'city's character'

New student accommodation blocks are set to be built in Birmingham despite concerns over a "significant part" of the city's character. The plans, lodged by University College Birmingham (UCB), sought permission for the demolition of all existing student accommodation on site, on land near where the Octagon tower is currently under construction, and the erection of two new buildings.

The two blocks, one of 35 storeys and another of 15 storeys, will provide 1,205 student bed spaces between them for UCB. Councillors were largely supportive of the project at a Birmingham planning committee meeting this week, with Cllr Gareth Moore describing Cambrian Hall, the university’s current halls of residence on the site near Parade, as a “bit of an eyesore”.

He continued that replacing it with “something that is more appealing and more attractive” was a “big positive". Cambrian Hall currently provides 247 bed spaces on the site while The Maltings off Bath Row offers 827.

READ MORE: Birmingham protesters make demand to new Labour government

“UCB wish to combine both student accommodation sites into one purpose-built development,” a council officer’s report said. “If built, operation at the Maltings would cease (secured through a legal agreement).

“Therefore, the proposed development would lead to an overall net increase of 131 student bed spaces available for occupation by UCB, all located on one city centre site". Cllr Martin Brooks, chair of the planning committee, said: “[The application] consolidates the accommodation for UCB on one site.

“They’re actually catering for, in many cases, younger students than some of the other universities and I think the fact they’re all going to be on one site and near to the centre of learning means that provides a much safer environment". Several consultees, such as BCC City Design and the Environment Agency, had no objections subject to conditions.

However, the Canal and River Trust was concerned by the plans, claiming the proposed development could create an “overbearing visual impact” and cause harm to the existing character of the canal corridor. Cllr Philip Davis echoed such concerns at the meeting, saying the trust made a “reasonable point”.

“I am concerned that this is a damaging encroachment on the character of the canal corridor,” he said. “We always talk about [the canal heritage] in Birmingham, it’s a very significant part of the city’s character.”

However, the report published prior to the meeting stated: “The canal itself has been assessed in the Heritage Assessment (HA) as a non-designated heritage asset, where it notes that the surroundings of the canal have changed considerably over time". It goes on to say that it is now experienced as part of a “mixed and fragmented townscape” but retains its “functional and industrial character”.

“The conclusions reached in the HA are that while the proposed development would introduce further change into the setting of the asset, this would not impact on the ability to appreciate the historical interest of the asset and its significance would be sustained,” it said. Planning officer Rhiannon Hill also told the meeting: “[The report] acknowledges there would be some harm to a non-designated heritage asset, the conservation officer has limited that to low levels of harm.

“Balanced against the benefits of the scheme, the report recommends approval". Summing up the benefits of the development, the report said it would provide a “high-quality development” in a sustainable location on brownfield land.

Do you think Keir Starmer will make a good Prime Minister?

“The proposed scheme would make a meaningful contribution towards Birmingham’s housing shortfall, purpose-built student accommodation demand and contribute towards the regeneration aspirations for this part of the city centre,” it said. “It would create a distinctive place and allow for the growth of an established city centre educational establishment.

“The scheme would also provide economic, social and environmental benefits". The development was ultimately approved, subject to the completion of a legal agreement, at the planning committee meeting held on Thursday, July 11.

Keep up to date with all the latest politics news with our politics newsletter. You can sign up for free here to get stories delivered straight to your inbox to read at a time convenient to you.

  • See our top stories and avoid ads by downloading our app to your phone or tablet