Library Site Doubts as English Heritage Backs Protection Plan

Article excerpt

Byline: By Paul Dale Public Affairs Editor

Ambitious plans for a pounds 1 billion transformation of Birmingham's historic civic heart were thrown into doubt last night after English Heritage announced it was urging the Government to declare the Central Library a building of architectural importance.

The conservation watchdog said it regarded the 1970s brutalist design worthy of recognition and was recommending it be listed - an outcome which would make it difficult for the city council to demolish the building as part of a plan to redevelop Paradise Circus.

Local Government Minister Margaret Hodge will decide this year whether to accept English Heritage's advice.

A decision to list the library would present major problems for the council which wants to flatten it, Paradise Forum, the Conservatoire and the Copthorne Hotel in one of the biggest city centre redevelopment schemes for decades.

Council regeneration director Clive Dutton was putting a brave face on the announcement, which he said had been expected.

Describing the library as a "blot", Mr Dutton said he would seek Government permission to go ahead with demolition even if it was listed.

A decision to list the library would merely make the process of redeveloping Paradise Circus more drawn out but would not stop the scheme, he insisted.

Mr Dutton said English Heritage inspectors produced a technical report based on subjective views of the architecture which did not take into account the poor physical state of the library or the estimated pounds 100 million-plus cost of modernising the building.

He remained confident Mrs Hodge would follow the precedent set by the Government in 2003, when her predecessor Baroness Andrews rejected an English Heritage recommendation to list the library.

Accepting preservation of brutalist architecture raised strong emotions for and against, Mr Dutton said English Heritage specifically drew Mrs Hodge's attention to the fact listed buildings can be demolished in special circumstances.

The report states: "We realise the Central Library building is not without its problems and the planning system will decide the extent to which its function and condition should be balanced against historic significance. …