Photo By D J Norton

Nat West Tower - What Next?

The Nat West tower on the corner of Colmore Row and Newhall Street is one of the least loved 1970's buildings in the city.  Having been empty for several years, it has recently (Nov 2006) been revealed that the site is about to change hands and move from Omega Land to British Land at a cost of about £21million.  The proposal being discussed is for yet another 'iconic' tower development.  Understandably, the Civic Society are not impressed - and neither am I!

Nat West Tower Entrance

Colmore Row remains a relatively unspoilt part of the city.  Its importance was recognised as early as 1971 when the initial 'Colmore Row and Environs' conservation area was eastablished.  The Draft Character Appraisal and Draft Supplementary Planning Policies document (2Mb PDF) produced by Birmingham Council is an excellent publication with Part A, section 4 containing a superb and very detailed description of the development of this part of Birmingham.  Part B, section 1 contains some suitably restrictive guidance for future development in the area.  Here are some highlights:-

New buildings must not appear to be significantly higher or lower than their neighbours.
The street frontage elevations of new buildings should achieve a satisfactory visual relationship with the street frontage elevations of their neighbours.
New buildings must preserve views and vistas characteristic of the conservation area and respect the setting of key historic landmarks.

All this, in my eyes, does not equate to a large tower block!  The problem lies in the fact that the council also has a Tall Buildings Strategy which identifies the Birmingham Ridge, which runs along Colmore Row, as suitable for the development of high-rise buildings up to a maximum 40 storeys to create a "memorable skyline".  Surely these are contradictory policies?

My worry is that finances will come out as the primary concern.  Who can realistically expect a developer to spend millions on the building, millions more on a complex demolition in a very restricted area and then erect a 6 storey office block that would not provide a return on investment for many years - if at all?  Whilst I would dearly love the view of the Civic Society to prevail and a block of, "no more than six storeys", erected, it's not going to happen.  The choice seems to be the 1970's tower slowly falling into a state of dereliction or a brand new tower in its place.  I await the proposals with interest...

Whichever way you look at it, it's not nice is it?

From Newhall St
From Edmund St
From St Philips
From Newhall St
From Edmund St near Church St
From St Philip's graveyard

From Wellington Passage
From Colmore Row
From Colmore Row
From Wellington Passage
Up close from Colmore Row
From Colmore Row