Final whistle - comment on taking the shine off

On April 17 I noted the planning application by Network Rail, 2014/02551/PA, to amend their plans for the western elevation of New Street Station including the Navigation Street footbridge, Taking the shine off?, and the plans to reduce the stainless steel cladding.

In my post I questioned whether this was an appropriate revision concerning the news of the changes to the atrium cladding and pondered what future residents and visitors might make of not finishing the planned design.  The Birmingham Post reported on the planning application, even featuring my quote on the legacy to future residents and visitors,, while Lord Whitby who fought for funding for the redevelopment spoke out against the change,

Lord Whitby said he could not believe that the design would be heavily compromised for ‘the sake of a two or three month delay’.
“This is what they argue this is about, not cost. But I believe the people of Birmingham would say ‘we have waited long enough, let’s ensure we get the design we wanted in the first place, not something which clearly looks obsolete in appearance and will ruin a fantastic design’.”

Normally I try not to be partisan on this blog, commenting and critiquing with love my fondness for Birmingham, but this application I believe fundamentally threatens the ambitions of a city to regenerate it's station and use this to benefit the immediate area and city overall.  I believe such a proposal would not even be considered for the redevelopment of one of London's main stations.  Birmingham has waited patiently while, with credit to the workforce and planning involved, a station has been redeveloped whilst remaining open and surely a further delay to ensure the station matches the promised design would not seem problematic. 

In the Design & Access Statement of the 2009 Planning Application the stainless steel cladding was lauded as aiming 'to trigger a new perception of the urban setting around the station, by reflecting in its surfaces the varying quality of light from the sky, selected areas of the urban landscape around the station and the movement of trains and people in and out of the station', (p.21 Design and Access Statement, 2009/05720/PA).  As shown in the images below, of the proposed changes, this fundamental part of the station design is undermined and we are left not with reflections of sky and movement but a few reflections of a tired bridge and glimpses of the 1960s concrete structure that was due to be hidden as the skeleton to which the new station would cling to instead of being exposed for all to see.

Images of the proposed changes, reproduced from the planning application, are shown below:

Proposed change

Original design

Proposed change

Original design

The images show the removal of cladding from the vehicle ramp exposing the original concrete structure so that by not cladding the footbridge the surrounding cladding will reflect the unfashionable  original bridge with newer extension, Christmas Presents New Bridge for New Street, instead of the sky above and trains and platforms below.  With the bridge not cladded the impact extends beyond the bridge to the whole western elevation as the remaining stainless steel cladding exposes the original 1960s structure and the bridge's out of character style instead of the ambitions of the 2009 planning application.  

To further add to the lack of cladding to the bridge is the revision to the Navigation Street entrance which will only have minor cosmetic changes so that it will sit as a reminder of earlier attempts to improve the station alongside the new 'eye' entrance; an awkward old and new.  At the other end of the bridge instead of a new Hill Street entrance that offered an exit to nearby John Bright Street and it's developing eateries and bars the exit will become an emergency exit only with the proposed building that was to act as an entrance becoming a stand-alone retail unit.  A welcome active use to the street but I believe undermining the ambition of the station to provide new entrances and help the flow of station users.

Perhaps gallingly against all of these changes the planning application notes the re-design 'to ensure that the works can be safely erected within the project's timescales' (paragraph 3.2 Design & Access Statement, 2014/02551/PA).  I share the frustration of Lord Whitby in wondering why it seems an overrun is not possible or palatable.  The argument that the design should be compromised because of timescale undermines the design of the building from the 2009 planning application and the role the facade was to play in the overall design.  Furthermore completing a building on-time or meeting the deadlines for construction is not a material consideration for planning consideration.  

New Street Station plays a fundamental part in the city and the geography of the city which the redevelopment has sought to address allowing the movement of people throughout the city rather than 'around' the station and instead of the stainless steel cladding reflecting the city and it's ambitions it will only partially reflect the city leaving the bridge as an afterthought or mistake that commentators will surely question why.  

On more formal planning reasons for objection, Paragraph 14 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF),, is particularly helpful in showing why the proposals should be refused showing that in the absence of an adopted local plan and associated adopted design policies, applications for planning consent should be determined in accordance with the presumption in favour for sustainable development. This states that planning applications should be approved unless:

"...any adverse impacts of doing so would significantly and demonstrably outweigh the benefits, when assessed against the policies in this Framework taken as a whole".

Taking the Framework as a whole, which not only notes that good design is indivisible from good planning but that 'great weight should be given to outstanding or innovative designs which help raise the standard of design more generally in the area' decisions should aim to:

  • will function well and add to the overall quality of the area, not just for the short term but over the lifetime of the development;
  • establish a strong sense of place, using streetscapes and buildings to create attractive and comfortable places to live, work and visit;
  • are visually attractive as a result of good architecture and and appropriate landscaping.
(Paragraph 58, NPPF)

The proposed changes challenge this framework and the 2009 planning application's aim to establish the strong sense of place and be visually attractive.  As issues of design the NPPF states that other considerations should be taken into account.  The absence of references to viability being the reason for the proposed changes but instead project deadlines shows that design must be the key consideration as part of the NPPF in the council's consideration of the proposal.  The impact of the proposed changes could also be considered to exceed their application as minor or non-material as they would fundamentally impact detrimentally on the design, character and appearance of the proposed development approved from the 2009 planning application.  

If you wish to object to the planning application then you have literally days left to raise your objection with public consultation ending on 22 May.  

If you do decide to write in, either to object or support the proposals you should either write or email to Birmingham City Council quoting the planning application number, 2014/02551/PA.  The council can only take into account planning issues when looking at your comments, for example design if this forms part of the application, possible noise or disturbance, previous planning decisions, local, regional, strategic and National planning policies.


Jonathan Smith said…
Hi Simon,
Just a correction, you have got the captions the wrong way round on the two 'original design' and 'proposed change' pair of images

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