IN a savage letter (in planning terms) English Heritage has rebuked Britannia Hotels and its boss Alex Langsam over London Road Fire Station.
I believe it is important that such a clear and influential commitment should be honoured and I would therefore ask you to implement the consent you have in line with Mr Langsam's quarantee.
On 22 February this year English Heritage sent a letter to Britannia Hotels in response to one sent on 8 February.
English Heritage are clearly embarrassed.
They supported Britannia Hotels in their appeal against a compulsory purchase order (CPO) from Manchester City Council. The CPO was rejected at the end of November 2011.
English Heritage aided the Hotels group because 'with our advice and support, you (Britannia Hotels) developed a scheme which involves minimum intervention with the historic fabric. It is clear that minimum intervention with the historic fabric is the appropriate way forward and not the type of scheme that was discussed in a very preliminary way, three years ago and which raises serious concerns.'
The problem is that in the 8 February letter Britannia backtracks on their 'minimum intervention' scheme, instead they want to investigate a rehashed idea of putting a tower in the courtyard of the Fire Station, an option they say would be more financially viable.
Britannia Hotels say, 'Developing the scheme as it stands, would not be sustainable either in the current climate or the foreseeable future, so we need to get feedback on the previous scheme option.'
English Heritage clearly consider this as a simple rejection of a previous commitment.
And also a stalling exercise.
As noted previously on Confidential, as a result of the CPO public enquiry, Britannia made a public pledge to return London Road Fire Station to use as a high quality hotel as soon as possible - with the first phase of work starting three months after the rejection of the CPO. The tower idea, which would have to be properly costed and would, even if acceptable, add months of delay, perhaps years.
English Heritage continue in their letter.
'There was a very clear commitment given by Britannia Hotels to the CPO inquiry that you would take forward the consented scheme. In particular Mr Alexander Langsam wrote to the Inspector on 9 June 2011, 'I can quarantee to the Inspector and the Secretary of State that I will fund (the building) to ensure that, in the event that the CPO is not confirmed, the planning permission and listing building consent in respect of the London Fire Station are implemented as soon as reasonably possible'. This statement was taken into account by the Inspector and the Secretary of State in reaching the decision not to confirm the CPO.'
'I believe it is important that such a clear and influential commitment should be honoured and I would therefore ask you to implement the consent you have in line with Mr Langsam's quarantee.'
The letter concludes: 'I am sorry to write in such blunt terms but I am sure you will understand English Heritage's intense frustration'.
That frustration is reflected at Manchester City Council.
This is from the latest Chief Executive's Report recommendations:
'The Executive agrees to: Record its profound disappointment in the Fire Station owner’s failure to honour the spirit of the commitment given on 9th June 2011 in the CPO public inquiry to implement the planning permission and listed building consent as soon as reasonably possible.'
Everybody in Manchester who cares about London Road Fire Station's development will feel the same, while also wondering why companies involve themselves in such small-minded, silly games.
What a mess.
And this time it all seems of Britannia Hotels making. We've put a call out for a response and a show-round but have yet to receive an answer.
The question is this.
Were the assurances given by Britannia Hotels to English Heritage simply a means to an end in winning the battle over the CPO with Manchester City Council, and nothing about the eventual development of this important gateway building into the city centre?
It appears the answer to that question is yes. And maybe we shouldn't be too surprised.
The report rejecting the CPO back in November had this from the Inspector: 'Britannia's witnesses made it very plain that the scheme is ready to proceed as soon as the threat of the CPO is removed and the funding is in place to allow that to happen. However, it is correct to observe that there is no evidence before the Inquiry of any company resolution to that effect. Mr Langsam's letter put in at the Inquiry is equivocal on the matter.'
In which case you have to wonder why the Inspector rejected the CPO.
No wonder English Heritage feels such 'intense frustration'.
Everybody in Manchester who cares about the city's development will feel the same, while also wondering why companies involve themselves in such small-minded, silly games.
You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield
Manchester City Council's full message to Britannia Hotels following the latest developments.
The Executive agrees to
1) Record its profound disappointment in the Fire Station owner’s failure to honour the spirit of the commitment given on 9th June 2011 in the CPO public inquiry to implement the planning permission and listed building consent as soon as reasonably possible.
2) Urge the owner of the Fire Station to review its strategy for redevelopment of the building without delay and to respond positively to the invitation to work constructively with the City Council and English Heritage to ensure implementation of the planning and listed building consent as soon as possible as this is the key to preserving the heritage value of the building and to maintaining regeneration momentum in this part of the City Centre.
3) Urge the owner of the Fire Station to act in the best interests of the well being of Manchester which demand that if it has not the capacity to implement the current consents, the owner takes urgent steps to dispose of the building to a new owner which has the willingness and capacity to redevelop the Fire Station in line with the current consents in the shortest possible time.
4) Confirm that the Council remains willing to enter into immediate discussions to acquire the building for market value to enable the crucial objective of preserving the building and maintaining regeneration momentum to be achieved. The Council would then facilitate the development of the building in the shortest possible time;
5) Request that the Chief Executive communicates the above resolutions to the owner and brings a report to the next meeting of the Executive, which if necessary explores all the available options to achieve the Council’s regeneration objectives.'