Birmingham City Council votes to demolish Ringway Centre – again

In a packed meeting on Thursday morning (1 February), members of the council’s planning committee voted seven-to-four in favour of approving a new Corstorphine & Wright residential scheme to replace the 1962 Brutalist landmark.

The practice’s new scheme will see three residential towers up to 56 storeys high replace the six-storey Ringway Centre curving along Smallbrook Queensway.

A hybrid planning application sought full planning permission for a 48-storey apartment block plus outline permission for two further residential towers on behalf of developer CEG.

The proposal had previously split the opinion of Birmingham’s planning committee – the scheme had originally been approved by seven votes to six – and the plans again divided the members at yesterday’s meeting.

Councillor Gareth Moore praised the proposed scheme’s ‘significant contribution to housing’ and for its ‘breaking of the concrete collar between Southside and the city core’, while councillor Jack Deakin said its ‘benefits around safety and connectivity for the Southside […] outweighed any negatives’.

But others hit back over the proposal’s carbon and heritage impact, including committee chair councillor Martin Brooks, who pointed out that the ‘iconic’ Ringway Centre had been described in the Birmingham: Pevsner Architectural Guide as ‘the best piece of mid-20th century urban design in the city’. He added that Birmingham needed ‘to look more imaginatively at how we repurpose existing buildings’ if it is to hit its carbon neutrality target by 2030.

Councillor Jane Jones agreed, saying: ‘I do think a retrofit is the future if we’re going to achieve our carbon [targets], and [personally] I would rather live in a retrofit Ringway building than a tower block.’

Meanwhile, three further letters of support for the new proposal submitted since September included one by Birmingham councillor Alex Yip, describing the Ringway Centre’s comparison with M&S Oxford Street as ‘inappropriate’ as the latter is in active use, while the Ringway has ‘been empty for a long period of time and creates a barrier between Southside and Chinatown and the city centre’.

Another letter from Birmingham’s Chinatown business association described the new proposals as ‘a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rebrand Chinatown’, creating more opportunities and business for Southside.

The latest critical vote came days after Grand Designs presenter Kevin McCloud added his voice to the coalition of campaigners known as Save Smallbrook, who are fighting to save the existing building. McCloud appeared in a video on X calling for the ‘beautiful’ 230m-long building to be ‘imaginatively reinvented’ instead of demolished.

Source:Corstophine & Wright

Corstorphine & Wright’s designs for Smallbrook Queensway. Birmingham (approved 28 September)

Birmingham council planners previously voted narrowly to approved the Ringway Centre’s demolition in a committee meeting in September 2023. But it was forced to scrap the decision and revisit the application following a legal challenge by Save Smallbrook, which claimed planning officers had misled the committee over the proposal’s carbon emissions impact.

The group, led by conservation organisations including The Twentieth Century Society (C20) and backed by architectural figures including Peter St John and Níall McLaughlin, employed barrister Estelle Dehon KC to examine the way the decision to approve the project at Smallbrook Queensway had been made.

In a letter to Ian MacLeod, director of planning, transport and sustainability for Birmingham City Council, Dehon claimed planning officers had misled the committee over the carbon impact of the proposal and had misrepresented Historic England by incorrectly claiming it had ‘no concerns’ about the application, when it had in fact raised concerns over the preservation of the locally listed building.

According to C20, if it proceeds, the scheme will have a ‘devastating’ carbon cost of 187 million kg of CO₂.

But an amended officers’ report submitted to the council’s planning committee ahead of the committee meeting once again recommended demolition for approval, insisting: ‘The council is of the view that the matters raised within the [legal] letter do not amount to a legal error in the decision made.’

The report did acknowledge updates for consideration during the latest committee meeting, including Corstorphine & Wright’s slightly amended application to include altered floor plans, and five new objections.

An alternative scheme, Re-Imagining Smallbrook Ringway: A Counter-Proposal for Adaptive Re-use, had been drafted by C20, the Birmingham Modernist Society and othersenvisaging the building re-used to create 450 homes of mixed sizes, with three new 20-storey towers mimicking the Rotunda building.

James Shimwell, head of residential development at CEG, said the company was ‘delighted’ with the decision, adding: ‘Having now twice supported the scheme through the appropriate process, the council has made a clear and unambiguous statement that the city is open to investment that revitalises the city centre and benefits everyone.’ He said work to clear the site would begin ‘as soon as possible’.