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Nicholas Hare's Birmingham college to face legal challenge

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Local campaigners are set to launch legal action against Nicholas Hare Architects' plans for a sixthform college in Birmingham after it won planning permission last week.

The Balsall Heath Forum (BHF), representing locals in the Balsall Heath area of the city, has vowed to block the £14 million scheme planned for a site on Metropolitan Open Land. The BHF will be pressing planning minister Lord Rooker for a planning inquiry and is also considering taking the council's decision to the High Court.

The campaigners have commissioned their own architect, local practice Axis Design Collective, to identify alternative locations for the scheme.

If the project goes ahead it will provide a new home for the Joseph Chamberlain College, capable of housing 1,400 full-time and 2,000 parttime students.

But the BHF claims this breaks the local Unitary Development Plan. It also believes the project falls foul of European regulations on the ratio of open space to housing density in the area.

Local resident and campaigner Naseem Ahktar said the residents have no intention of letting this one lie. 'This is against our human rights, ' she said.

'We are considering all our legal avenues.' And Ahktar claimed that Lord Rooker, a passionate Brummie, had already had contact with the BHF and is aware of the campaign.

'It is not that we do not want the college in the area, ' she added. 'We want both the college and the parkland. But it is as if the council is forcing us to choose between the park and education. Surely we have a right to both?'

Axis Design Collective architect Joe Holyoak criticised the council for failing to look at alternatives for the scheme.

'We want to get the project called in because there are other locations which are not on parkland which would suit the college.'

However, Birmingham City Council planner David Wells rubbished the idea of another site, adding that there is 'sufficient parkland provision in the area'. This means, he said, that the council is allowed by law to sanction construction on Metropolitan Open Land.

Nicholas Hare said he was delighted to win the go-ahead from the council but said that he has no desire to allow his practice to become enmeshed in local politics. The practice hopes the scheme will be on site next summer.

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