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Tower Ballroom Development        

Countrywide Homes have proposed to demolish the Tower Ballroom and replace it with flats under Birmingham City Council Planning Application number C/06547/05/FUL.  Comments must be with BCC by the 23rd of November 2005.

Studying the web based Community Consultation Document (CCD) from www.greenissues.com/towerballroom/, the proposal is for 40 three and four-bedroom houses and 50 two-bedroom apartments and a café.   There is a total of 89 parking spaces provisioned.  Assuming one person per bed space this amounts to dwellings for some 234 persons.

General         It is widely accepted that the demolition of The Tower Ballroom is greatly welcomed to remove an eyesore from the vista of The Reservoir.  Any replacement should visually complement ‘The Jewel’ in Birmingham’s Crown and enhance the experience of visiting the ‘Special Place’ and recognised SINC – Site of Importance for Nature Conservation.

The FER therefore oppose the proposed development on a wide variety of grounds which include the following points:

Public Rights of Way           The CCD states that one of the key motivators behind the plans is to improve pedestrian links around The Reservoir.  From the detailed drawing supplied, there appears to be no improvement to the pedestrian route around The Reservoir at all with the exception of removing the overhanging structure and resurfacing.  A major concern for years has been the personal safety aspects of the dog leg in the footpath by the spill weir outflow adjacent to TS Vernon.  The proposal has no modification to this key area of concern, removing the dogleg and improving the frontages of the Buddhist Temple and TS Vernon at the same time (Two ‘Planning Gains’ identified by The Reservoir Users Group).

Security and Safety              The CCD also states that the development increases the lines of Passive Surveillance.  There is no requirement for this; there are no other buildings that directly overlook The Reservoir adding to its value as a private place.  In complete contrast, the development actually reduces the safety and security of users as it reduces by some 50% the view of the water (the main areas of use by water sports users) that is a key feature of the surveillance vantage point the Rangers have from The Lodge.   There is also the possibility of noise pollution; loud music being played in the flats will be clearly audible at the far side of the Reservoir due to the lack of any acoustic barrier. 

Proposed Building Height              The CCD is also stating falsehoods in that “the development will benefit the views of the famous ‘two towers’ from across The Reservoir.”  From the artist impression of the view from across The Reservoir provided, one tower is completely obscured by the left hand building and the second is conveniently placed in between the two blocks so that the top half is visible.  The existing Tower Ballroom is a tall two storey structure with a round section pitched roof.  Seen from the far side of The Reservoir, the structure is lower than a line drawn between the roofs of Daisy Road and the top of the Buddhist Temple, enabling the viewer to see tree tops and both Towers behind.  The artists impression picture shows the blocks of flats proposed as being at least one if not two storeys higher than the existing building.

The CCD stated that the proposed structure will be ‘a little higher’ than the originally proposed hotel.; this is incorrect as it is more likely to be at least one storey higher.  The earlier proposal was a graduated height structure over the whole site, much like the existing building, not a wall of flats rising in one elevation above the existing sky line.  


Current height of the existing Tower Ballroom from actual photo taken from public path beside Midland Sailing Club on 2 Nov 05.  Roof line of Tower Ballroom is below a line drawn between the roofs of Daisy Road and the top of the Buddhist Temple and has tree tops and the two towers clearly visible above the skyline.


Artist’s impression of the proposed development as portrayed on www.greenissues.com/towerballroom/.  Proposal appears to be at least one storey higher than existing building.  Folly in artist’s impression appears to be thicker and in different location.  

Maintaining Local Architectural Characteristics            Whilst the proposed housing may reflect the existing residential property in the surrounding area, the principle of flats bordering The Reservoir clearly does not.   In addition, the proposed flat roofed structure is completely out of character with all surrounding properties (including flats) and is highly likely to require re-roofing with a pitched roof in the future (as all flat roofs end up).  This will take the structure up to 5 storeys at the waters edge.

Isolation of The Lodge              The CCD also purports to respect the setting of The Lodge by allowing sufficient space around it to allow for any future visitors centre and public toilets.  The boundary of the proposal completely envelopes the existing Lodge site, isolating it completely from The Reservoir of which it is an intrinsic part, and building right up to that boundary and allowing no room for expansion other than within the site itself which is clearly insufficient.  No provision for parking at a visitors centre at The Lodge i.e. coach manoeuvring and parking area etc. has been allowed.  Also, the height and scale of the new development would almost completely block the view of The Reservoir from the proposed visitors centre rendering it almost pointless. 

Car Parking Inadequate             At the same time, no road widening or on street parking provision has been proposed.  With 234 bed spaces and only 86 parking spaces, clearly there is going to be significant overspill of parking into neighbouring roads.  The existing roads are very narrow and this will inevitably lead to parking on pavements if there is to be any access left for Emergency service vehicles and coaches.  

Large Trees             The only new trees proposed appear to be located along Osler Street in the 1 meter gap between the pavement edge and the proposed buildings.  Clearly any trees that are to be allowed to grow to any significant size and thereby be a visual enhancement to this neighbourhood, are going to be a significant hazard to the structure of the buildings, the path way, the road surface, buried services and to passing foot and vehicular traffic.  Are the proposed trees actually just shrubs?  Real trees of the size depicted in the CCD will require significantly more ground area to be allocated in order to grow properly and not be a short term problem to all before they are grubbed out a few years later ‘for safety reasons.’

No Public Toilets           The proposal includes the provision of a café with no additional parking spaces and there is no indication of public toilet facilities being available to passers by rather than café users.  This would presumably operate in direct competition to the long establish café adjacent to The Lodge and upset the delicate balance of business against survival that already exists. Are BCC going to compensate the existing café if it is forced out of business by the new development?

Existing Concerns               In addition to the above points brought out in the CCD, The Proposal appears to completely disregard all of the publicised views and comments of local people and formal groups such as Ladywood Ward Group and The Reservoir Users Group, in that:

Planning Gain – TS Vernon               All discussion up to now have treated TS Vernon’s building structure as part of the Tower Ballroom and therefore assumed to be demolished.  The ‘Planning Gain’ identified here has always included be a replacement purpose build building for TS Vernon and a proper slipway.  This has been omitted from The Proposal.  The CCD only states that TS Vernon will be improved by tarmaccing the car park.  The car park is quite adequate for its purpose at the moment and TS Vernon would much prefer improvement to their old building first rather than external, low cost, cosmetic improvements which presumably will improve the visual aesthetics of the public areas and thereby aid the sale of the flats.

Other Concerns - Trees               The proposal allows for very few new trees.  The proposal should allow for continuation of full height trees across the whole waterside frontage of the development to bring it into line with the rest of the Reservoir.  A more sensible layout would be turn the blocks of flats around 180º to have a tree lined car park area along the water’s edge of the proposal boundary and the buildings inland and obscured by large trees.

Summary               The whole proposal is an alien intrusion into the site within a mature suburb development.  With the exception of the dam wall, the existing vista from the Reservoir water outwards is an almost unbroken wall of full height trees until it reaches this development.  All existing properties around the Reservoir all back onto the site with a considerable obscuring green corridor between the building line and the waters edge.  This proposal is not a tiered development that ‘reflects the contours of the land’ but a four storey wall of bricks right up to the boundary of The Reservoir with gaudy colours and no green barrier, that completely subsumes the contours of the land.  The whole proposal, whilst welcomed as a replacement to the existing structure, is clearly out of keeping with the rest of The Reservoir and should therefore be rejected.


Other Campaigns

Barford Passage Tunnel   The BCC plan to infill the tunnel and reroute the cycle and foot path up two flights of steps, across Icknield Road and back down two flights of steps is not supported by any local group.  The plan would destroy the principal of cycle ways, Birmingham’s network of foot paths and green corridors and interrupt the route of The Harborne Walkway which follows the route of the disused railway to Harborne.  The FER are against this proposal as it is a backward step in developing the areas network of paths and cycle routes. 
 

Harborne Walkway           The Harborne Walkway is an unofficial path which follows the route of the disused railway line from the Wolverhampton Canal at Northbrook Street to the large brick bridge over Park Hill Road off of Nursery Road in Harborne.  The FER want to have The Harborne Walkway’s adopted by Birmingham City Council as a public Right of Way to ensure that it is protected in the future and receives regular maintenance and litter clearance.  In addition, such a public right of way in a city could also be upgraded with a meandering gravel path to provide a better surface for disabled people and cyclists.  Bob Hunt of the local Birmingham Group of local Rambler’s Association is currently leading on this issue to get the route recognised a Public Footpath.

NEW!!!      The Friends of Harborne Walkway
 
Things are happening down the walkway – good and bad.  The good report the bad goings on such as fly tipping and vandalism.  The even better news is that the good are now getting together to form The Friends of Harborne Walkway.  More good news is that the City Council are now actively looking at options to support and maintain the walkway so we are now getting together to help BCC make the right decisions, and quickly.

If you are interested in joining The Friends (membership is free), please send an e-mail to ktween@blueyonder.co.uk  and I will put you on the list of those who wish to be kept informed of developments.

The Friends of Harborne Walkway Society’s Charter

To preserve the natural beauty and historic significance of The Harborne Walkway.

To influence through representation to the Birmingham City Council, the use of, running and maintaining The Harborne Walkway as a rural, unspoilt, un-tarmaced path for use by walkers, joggers, cyclist, the young, the old and the disabled.

To provide a focal organisation to hear and represent the views of local people and organisations and other interested parties concerning the use of, running and maintaining, and development of The Harborne Walkway, e.g. litter, fly tipping, anti-social behaviour.

To act as a Pressure group on BCC to have the walkway recognised as a Public Right of Way and be adopted by BCC and thereby have the route maintained as such.

To fight the closure of Barford Passage tunnel under Icknield Port Road

Through membership, provide regular information about The Friends of Edgbaston Reservoir and organise events e.g. Litter Picks.

To maintain a democratically elected Committee to represent the membership of the FHW and address individual opinions.

To formerly meet regularly, publicise the activities and Working Objectives and achievements of the FHW. 


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