As the city design adviser to Birmingham City Council, I am charged with promoting design and quality. This involves advising on design across the local authority. As a city, we continue to promote leading practice in architecture and to enable development through planning - I would cite Selfridges as just one example of this. However, when it comes to the Jewellery Quarter, we have a very particular context to deal with, as you have highlighted (News, AJ 11.11.04). It is a conservation area consisting of 214 listed buildings and has been deemed a place of European significance by English Heritage, in its publication, The Birmingham Jewellery Quarter Urban Village - An Architectural Survey of the Manufactories 1760-1999.
Birmingham City Council has produced a character appraisal and management plan for the whole conservation area (which refers to the English Heritage analysis) and there is an emerging piece of related supplementary guidance known as the Jewellery Quarter Design Guide. This guidance has been consulted widely with architects, developers and conservationists. Reid Architecture were invited to these consultations, but did not attend. We are currently incorporating comments received into the guidance as a result of these very productive consultations.
Hence, for Reid Architecture to state that policies are confusing, is wrong; they are coordinated. Residential development is discouraged in the 'industrial middle' of the quarter, but not elsewhere. The palette of materials is not restricted to brick, but rather reflects upon the tremendous variety found in the quarter, which is nevertheless from a notably dominant group of materials. Heights are indeed restricted to four storeys, except for the periphery.
A number of officers expressed concerns about Reid Architecture's designs (above), which ignored these policies. Our internal design-review panel considered the scheme in October and found it lacking - both as a piece of urban design and architecture. In our view, it missed the opportunity that this important site presents and was not of a high calibre. The chief planning officer, therefore, recommended refusal and this recommendation was accepted by our members.
I would encourage you to publish the plans, elevations and perspective views as submitted to Birmingham City Council, so that your readers can see what we are dealing with here.
Philip Singleton, city design adviser, Birmingham City Council