Birmingham's Grade II* listed Central Hall © Roslyn Tappenden
City Planners have given their approval for one of Birmingham’s most recognisable historic buildings to be turned into flats.
The Central Hall on Corporation Street looks set to become the latest casualty of the Midlands property boom.
The Grade II* listed building is at the heart of Birmingham’s Steelhouse Conservation Area and has been the subject of several planning applications – the first in 2001 to convert the building into offices was withdrawn.
Subsequent applications to convert the building into flats were rejected on the basis that too much of the historic fabric inside the building would be destroyed.
However concern has mounted over the future of the building, which is still vacant and in desperate need of repair.
Converting Central Hall into flats might be the only way to save it © Roslyn Tappenden
Council planners had initially hoped that a more sympathetic proposal would come forward but conceded that, as no alternative options were submitted, a residential development may be the only way for the building to be saved.
Planning officer David Wells said: “The ideal proposal for this building would be one which kept the hall and major spaces undivided and in the public domain.
He added: “Reports into potential uses of the building have indicated that keeping it in public use isn’t feasible.”
Mary Worsfold, West Midlands architectural advisor to the Victorian Society said: “Our view is that we would like someone to prove to us that keeping the public space is not commercially viable.
“Any scheme for a listed building should not be based on what will make the most profit. It should be based on the least intrusive option for the building.
“What is concerning us is that not all the options have been explored. We did suggest a proposal that would see the Ryder Street end of the building converted. That would enable the hall to be kept as a public space.”
She added: “It is concerning that Curzon Street Station is being converted into a concert hall for the Royal College of Organists when there is a hall here already.”
The vast leaded windows flood the interior with light © Roslyn Tappenden
Built in 1887 as a Methodist Hall, the building’s interior is as spectacular as its facade. The mainfeature is the Great Hall, surrounded on three sides by an ornate balcony with the original organ pipes intact at one end.
There are two chapels to the north of the building and a grand entrance hall with a sweeping staircase climbing up both sides.
Large leaded windows allow light in on all three of the building’s facades and its distinctive tower is clearly visible from the Expressway motorway.
In 1991 the Methodist Church was converted into a nightclub, however since its closure in 2002 the building has remained empty and fallen into disrepair.
The building's Grade II* Listed status places it within the top six per cent of the nation's historicbuildings in terms of its architectural value.
The tower is visible from the Expressway motorway © Roslyn Tappenden
Sadly, the planning application proposes the removal of several staircases with wrought iron banisters and the remaining seating on the balconies that line the Great Hall.
Although the main space will remain virtually intact, apartments will be built in the aisles behind the main pillars.
However, despite the loss of some internal features, the badly damaged leaded windows will be repaired and the building’s exterior will be fully restored.
Consultations are also continuing between the developers, Renaissance Worldwide, and EnglishHeritage. As a result the plans have already been amended several times.
Developers had originally planned to screen off the organ and the stage, the focus of the main hall. However, concerns raised by English Heritage have meant that the screen has now been scrapped and the stage will be repaired.
David Wells added: “The current proposals are the most likely to secure the future of the building by funding its repair and maintenance.”
The final application has now been referred to the Local Government Office.