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JEWELLERY SNORTER

18-10-2006

Astonishing news from Birmingham Council where a plan to hijack one of the Jewellery Quarter's conservation zones is being rushed back to the city's planning committee just weeks after councillors voted against it.

Regular readers of The Stirrer will know that we've campaigned long and hard against a plan to convert the A E Harris Engineering works on Northwood Street into apartments and offices.

Harris claim they need to relocate in order to survive, but Jewellery Quarter campaigners reckon that if the scheme goes ahead, it will sound the death knell for this historic quarter of the city.

Rents are already going up on the back of speculative development, and it's feared that if a major business in the protected “industrial zone”can be lost to housing, nowhere is safe.

Somewhat bizarrely, the Harris development won the backing of the government's conservation body English Heritage, and was also supported by council officers.

Those who know the Quarter well were aghast, but managed to persuade councillors on the planning committee to stand firm.

So after an inconclusive planning meeting in September, the scheme was finally thrown out on a 6-5 vote at the start of October.

Or at least we thought it was. But astonishingly, it's back on the agenda again for the meeting in November. Blimey, even Rasputin wasn't this hard to kill.

Tory councillor Peter Douglas Osborn said: “As I understand it, after we voted, that should have been that, unless there was an appeal. It's bureaucracy gone wild”

A Jewellery Quarter insider simply said: “It's a disgrace.”

And this is how Birmingham Council explained the rejection that wasn't a rejection after all.

"When the report was considered on 5 October Members voted not to approve the recommendation. For an application to be refused, a further report setting out the reasons for refusal would need to be considered by the Planning Committee.

"A further report on the application will be considered by the Planning Committee in the near future."

So the application wasn't “refused”; merely “not approved” - which is news to those councillors who voted against it, and might come in handy next time you're plans to build a conservatory are knocked back.

In all seriousness this one stinks to high heaven, and casts doubt on the transparency of local government in Birmingham.

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