Home > News > In-Depth > West Midlands > Take Off Or Crash For Birmingham Skyline

Take Off Or Crash For Birmingham Skyline

Since the mid 1990's, city planners and councillors have strived to turn the Birmingham skylines into one worthy of a true international city. Until recently, the cities skyline contained nothing but largely dull 20 storey, 1960's concrete blocks producing a very dense but unimaginative "average" skyline. However, will controversial safety precautions stop the city planners dead in their tracks or will their visions and dreams soon become a reality?

Since the tragic events of September 11th, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have strived to ensure that our planes and high-rise buildings stay well away from each other. To ensure this, a strict height limit set from sea level was imposed across UK and from 2003 was integrated in local development frameworks across the country.

The height limit imposed stands at 242m above sea level and is enforced across all cities in the UK (however controversially this does not appear to include London). As a result, the height limit for any given building in any city varies on how high that city/location is above sea level. For most of our major cities such as Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool which stand at between 20 to 40m above sea level, this limit is anything but limiting allowing any buildings to be built up to 222m and 202m respectively. However, this is not the case for Birmingham.

Birmingham city centre is located upon a limestone ridge that rises to well over 100m above sea level. It is due to this fact that the CAA regulations have a much more limiting effect on any high-rise building proposed in Birmingham. According to CAA guidance, the tallest any building can be built in the city varies from 102m to 127m depending upon the location within the city centre. To many, this would seem to halt any hopes city planner may have to construct a skyscraping skyline but yet there is still light at the end of the tunnel.

Since the CAA's guidelines were introduced into Birmingham city councils planning guidelines (documented in the councils "High Places" document), it has been surrounded in controversy. One of the main stumbling blocks for the CAA is that the upper height boundary had already been breached 36 year before the limit was imposed. The Birmingham BT Tower rising to 152m smashes through the safety barrier by over 30m and is located right in the heart of the Birmingham Skyline. As well as this, Miller Group and Andy Ruhan are due to unveil their Arena Central master plan on Broad Street. The joint venture already had planning permission granted before the height limit was imposed for a 187m tower with 245m spire and even more controversially had planning permission extended for said tower AFTER the CAA's safety barrier were imposed.

However, even with these few exceptions to the rule, it seemed that no other towers were destined to cross that barrier. The first casualty was Beethams 43 storey 193m Holloway Circus Tower (HCT) which during planning was chopped down to 39 storeys and 122m and it seemed that many other proposals were destined to have the same fait with developers not even attempting to breach the upper height limit.

Things were soon to change when Richardson Cordwell purchased the former Tramps Nightclub site further along Broad Street in Birmingham main entertainment district. Cordwell are well known within the city and have constructed a number of high profile entertainment and commercial properties in Birmingham and still seemed keen to make their mark on the city.

This summer, they unveiled their 38 storey 134m Broad Street Tower. Not only does this break the CAA height limit by 39m but this is the FIRST high-rise proposal to breach the height limit submitted since the height limits were imposed.

However, do not be fooled into thinking Cordwell were just ignorant of the councils "High Places" document or that Cordwell are of the belief they are larger that the CAA's height limit. Included within the planning application was a Aviation appendix clearly stating how their tower was of no danger to passing aircraft. Backing up their claims with flight path data, land elevation plans and the inclusion of relevant air safety precautions within the towers design, Cordwell have constructed a strong case to allow their tower to be built.

City councillors are reported to be in strong support of the tower and have commenced crucial talks with Birmingham International Airport (BIA) to try and get this tower approved.

A Skyscrapernews source states that BIA seem to suggest that although the CAA height limit is still in force across the city, the limit is not set in stone and that each tower will be assessed on their individual merits presented to them in a given planning application.

Other sources have been less confident and believe that just as Beetham had plans for a taller tower hobbled by the CAA that this scheme could end up being chopped down to size too and that at the very least the developer and planning consultants will have their work cut out to justify the height.

If approved, this could restore confidence with developers in the city and encourage them to further develop high-rise schemes within Birmingham. This in turn could attract further outside investment as well as seeing city planners visions become reality. However, equally if not approved, the Birmingham BT Tower may well be the cities tallest building for a long time yet.

Article Related buildings:

Broad Street Tower

Broad Street Tower
Holloway Circus Tower

Holloway Circus Tower
Arena Central Tower

Arena Central Tower
AIrbus Landing taking off at BIA
AIrbus Landing taking off at BIA