SOLIHULL Council’s own plans to build an office block have received unanimous support from its planning committee.
The controversial proposal for the council to develop its own ‘A Grade’ office block will now go ahead.
Its hoped commercial rents will provide a long-term revenue for the borough.
As reported in the Observer last year, the council is set to build the office block close to Touchwood shopping centre and Solihull railway station.
‘High environmental standards’
Following the planning committee approving the plans, a spokeswoman for the council said: “The application sets out a high level overview of proposals for a 114,000 sq ft Grade A office development.
“Westgate’s key strategic and commercial location at the corner of Homer Road and Station Road will make it a gateway to the town centre’s thriving business quarter, close to Touchwood shopping centre and Solihull railway station.
“Westgate will also offer a flexible co-working and collaboration space with dedicated car parking and significant public realm improvements.
“The scheme will have one of the highest environmental standards for buildings and achieve an EPC of A (achieving a 42% improvement in building emissions) in line with the Council’s commitment to sustainability and a low carbon future.
“Westgate will form a vital part of the Council’s new town centre masterplan which provides a clear blueprint for future investment and development in the town centre over the next 20 years.
“Building on its strong track record for attracting international occupiers and investment, Solihull Council is taking the lead in developing this landmark scheme in recognition of the demand from businesses to locate in Solihull town centre.”
At 35m tall the Westgate development would be the tallest building in Solihull – taller than the Birmingham airport control tower.
Neighbour Liz Hardy said: “We gathered 52 objections to this scheme – at nine storeys it will be the tallest building in Solihull, it will dominate the skyline and compete with our view of St Alphege’s spire .
“It lacks subtlety and connection and it is totally out of scale with neighbouring streets.
“Users of the building will park as close as possible, impacting already congested local roads.
“Drainage has been overlooked as residents have frequently objected to flooding at the end of streetsbrook and the crescent;.
“116 trees have been cut down, with the loss of beautiful and particularly magnificent trees, according to the trees surveyor.
“This is not high quality public realm. Construction is hugely carbon intensive and the energy use of a new air conditioned office is totally unnecessary when there are offices elsewhere in the borough which lie empty.”
“Building a massive speculative office headquarters in this location is a vanity project and in the opinion of local tax payers it is completely unacceptable.”
The council’s head of strategic land, Peter Carrol, told the planning meeting: “Shopping habits are changing, and while Solihull is more resilient than most, we have recently received the news Marks and Spencer is looking to move out of the town centre.
“Investment is essential to maintaining an economically vibrant town centre, that can continue to provide high quality facilities , experiences and opportunities for social interaction.
“It is widely recognised it is key to attract business to settle in town centres, to create a place where people want to visit.
“Since 2010 the market has failed to deliver enough new high quality offices to attract top business and support new businesses.
“This is not because there is any lack of demand, indeed businesses are frustrated over the lack of choice.
“The problem is how long a development takes, and reaching an agreement which is why this proposal by the council is so relevant today.
“This building does make a statement, and it is about our ambition for the future of Solihull as a successful town, without the many problems that have beset towns that are less fortunate, and unable to make this kind of investment and commitment to the future.”
Solihull’s planning committee were united in approving the scheme, but concerns were raised by some including Coun Karl MacNoughton, who said: “Its a small town centre, anything we do will have an impact on the locality.
“There is something there that says you will effect neighbours… and my concern is the ecology but especially conditions on drainage.
“So long as all those things happen, we can approve this, simply because of exactly where it is.”