|The new Birmingham Road Plans|
Development Control Manager
Application No: 15/01365/FULM - Land at Birmingham Road, Lichfield
The Society welcomes this application particularly as it represents a considerable reduction in scale to the preceding one and is thus more in keeping with the possible general needs presented by anticipated residential growth currently being aired. However, the Society must express some reservations as to the general distribution of the various elements of the scheme particularly the proportions of retail and A3 and A4 establishments to the residential content.
Everyone must be aware of the powerful increase in online shopping accelerating year on year that challenges any development that might be over-dependant on the ground based retail sector for its success. The Society recognises that there must always be an element of risk in any application but feels that this scheme in some ways is trying to 'buck the trend' by the inclusion of so many shops (possibly 27). The number of bars and restaurants also seems rather too many (possibly between 7 and 10) being outside the current City Centre Bird Street 'entertainment zone', though it could well be argued that the cinema and fitness club will generate their own demand. The cinema would be very welcome and could be a valuable asset in the regeneration and success of the scheme. Health clubs appear to be able to sustain their popularity.
Overall the Society believes that some of the retail elevations could well benefit from a greater integration and the idea that there are places where the design should in some way reflect the texture of the historic city has been interpreted too slavishly, resulting in a somewhat overactive mixture of styles. This is particularly noticeable in parts of the internal shopping area and along the Birmingham Road frontages. Block E seems to be an unhappy companion to much of the rest of the scheme and over-assertive. The link with the Three Spires/Bakers Lane part of the City Centre will be most welcome and is long overdue. More importantly the Society feels that there are serious issues regarding access to the development by the length of the current generation of large delivery vehicles. These are increasingly notable by their deep rear overhang which must present problems in turning when entering and leaving this complex, especially via St. John Street. It is hard to see how the present plan could cater for this difficulty.
The bus station design seems to ignore the expected growth in the use of public transport, having only nine bays with only a single place in the layover bay for long distance coaches and out of service buses or for refreshment/waiting stops for bus staff. A solution to these needs would seem to be a necessity, but as it stands, difficult to achieve.
The Society has concerns regarding the use of 'chevron' bays that could present a hazard to pedestrians when reversing, but more importantly there will be a difficulty in making a manoeuvre reversing left from No: 1 bay so as to turn right toward the exit without the rear of the bus obtruding into Birmingham Road. This would be unacceptable. The other bays might possibly be less affected by this problem but might still be constricted when leaving the bus station. For example the Mercedes Citaro bus is in common use in this station and has the following dimensions - length 12.14m, width 2.55m, wheelbase 5.90m. Even taking into account the small scale of the drawing the Society's correspondent found difficulties in negotiating a 'model' in and out of the station without obtruding onto the road.
Exiting on to the main road seems also exceedingly tight. Perhaps bays parallel to Birmingham Road could indeed present a better and viable alternative as suggested in some of the plan included in the brief. Pedestrians walking along the north side of Birmingham Road will come in conflict with cars using the wide access to the car park. The Society feels that it is inescapable that some form of priority should be integrated into the scheme to secure the safety of pedestrians, but is aware that this would have an impact on the circulation of traffic providing yet another delay on one of the most overloaded roads in the County.
The introduction of mansard roofs to the apartments facing St. John's Hospital are much welcomed and a great improvement stylistically, being lower and more appropriate than formerly. However the Society wonders whether the projecting steps on St. John Street are necessary when the whole frontage could be brought forward to the curtilage, with the benefit of releasing more internal space. The entrance could then be at ground level and also be a more logical access solution to St. John Street. Using the entrance to the Close as a model for St. John Street ignores that the first is on quite a slope and the latter is on the flat, so making these steps gratuitous. A simple, slightly recessed, door leading to a small internal lobby might well replace the steps.
Furthermore steps present a practical difficulty to mothers with pushchairs, the disabled and the elderly. Though there are indeed alternative entrance routes via the rear of the block these could prove inconvenient and circuitous. A lower level to the ground floor would also help to reduce the height of the building.
The apartments facing the bus station would seem to benefit from mansard frontages (as on St. John Street) thus removing the solecism of an asymmetrical gable. This might need some external and internal reorganisation but would result in a worthwhile improvement by harmonising and integrating them with the St. John Street section of the residential development.
Overall the application demonstrates considerable effort to overcome the intrinsic difficulties presented by the location and constriction of the site and the demands of an ever changing economic and social climate. lt is possible that these could test any solution to its inherent problems and these could benefit from some further thought that could result in modifications to its diversity, but make it a more viable project in the long term.
Some aspects of the shopping elevations seem to be fragile in their relevance to their position within a 21st century context, as well designed contemporary design can integrate perfectly well within an historic townscape. lt could be that a simpler but not necessarily reduced scheme could be preferable. That would leave greater physical space for the obligatory bus station, however much this might be perceived as not being necessarily central to the commercial success of the proposal.