Digbeth apartments plan approved despite fears for future of nightclubs
Plans for 1,000 flats near Digbeth’s Custard Factory have been approved despite fears they will be the "nail in the coffin" for nightclubs in Birmingham.
Court Collaboration’s Stone Yard development aims to place 995 one and two-bed apartments in apartment blocks ranging from six to 30 storeys on the site of the Bull Ring Trading Estate.
The £280 million scheme, designed by Glancy Nicholls architects, is set to include commercial space for uses such as restaurants, bars, cafés, a fitness club and cinema along Deritend High Street.
The plans have been contested including by residents and traders at the nearby Custard Factory, and the council received petitions signed by more than 1,300 people.
Councillors on Birmingham City Council’s planning committee approved the plans on July 30 despite strong words against the scheme by members.
Councillor Simon Morrall said nightclub venues in the city were already disadvantaged due to the prominence given to residents’ noise concerns in licensing decisions.
He said: "The night-time economy is getting it really hard at the moment during Covid-19.
"If you try and set up a night club these days, or a new licensed venue, you will have some property developer show up turning round and saying ‘oh but what about the noise complaints?’.
"Here you have in Digbeth a high-rise, 30-storey tower block right opposite what is left of the night-time economy in our city.
"I feel as a city we need to have more safeguards in place for the night-time economy.
"If this application does get approved today, I will see that as a nail in the coffin, more evidence that this city council doesn’t give a damn about the night-time economy."
Councillor Lou Robson raised concerns about conservation and said: "I think it is very much an over-development of the site.
"I am concerned about the mix – not just the fact that it is a preponderance of one and two bedroom accommodation and no family accommodation – it is the mix of uses on the site.
"We have a policy of 35 per cent of affordable housing. It will change the character of the area if only well-off people can afford to live there.
"It’s a really important entrance to the city and I think this site could have been done much better and I will be opposing it."
A statement read during the meeting from Bennie Gray, of the Digbeth Deserves Better group which has opposed the development, said: "A tower of this magnitude is unsuitable in this area, especially on the edge of a conservation area.
"The scale of the tower is unsympathetic to Digbeth’s character, and will dwarf, diminish and cast year-round shadows over the conservation area.
"Although the site is within the clean air zone (CAZ), 70 parking spaces is a gross under-calculation of requirement and demand.
"Parking is already a recognised issue and this development will intensify the current issue.
"The development will potentially increase the pressure on public services.
"The high volume of residential units poses a significant threat to Digbeth’s night-time economy and music venues."
A statement in support of the scheme from Richard Brown of property consultancy CBRE was read, while Cllr Gareth Moore (Con) also spoke in favour.
Councillor Moore said: "I don’t think the scheme is perfect – there are certainly improvements I believe should be made to it, most noticeably a significant increase in the amount of parking available.
"Perhaps the tower could be shorter, but I don’t have an issue in principle with a tall tower on this site.
"My main concern is relating to the noise and the impact on the night time economy. I do think it is perhaps more feasible here than other places in the city centre.
"Most noticeably because you have got the dual carriageway which is three lanes, separating the night-time economy off from this site so that adds considerable distance."
A planning officer at the meeting said conditions could safeguard occupiers of the new flat from noise and "it shouldn’t create a nuisance".
He added officers were "very cognisant" of Digbeth’s night-time economy.
The application was approved, with nine councillors voting for and councillors Morrall and Robson voting against.
Conditions suggested by officers include 10 per cent of the private rented flats being affordable, as well as "24/7 public access to the pedestrian boulevard" linking the high street with Green Street.
Speaking after the decision, Alex Neale, managing director of Court Collaboration, said: "As well as delivering additional high-quality apartments, the scheme will provide flexible commercial space which has been specially designed to suit of wide range of business and leisure uses.
"The Stone Yard will be a fantastic addition to Digbeth and will further open up the area, forming a critical part of the city’s economic recovery strategy following the Covid-19 pandemic.
"We look forward to starting works on-site, with a target of commencing during Q1 2021."