With work apparently having started on Birmingham’s new Central Library even before planning permission has been granted campaigner Alan Clawley has been trying to find who’s objected to the new building – and what they’ve been saying. 

We, the public, have been given two chances to comment on the new library design since it was launched in April this year.

The first ‘consultation exercise’ was described by Steve Beauchampe in a Stirrer article last May as ‘verging on farce’ and appears to have sunk without trace.

Perhaps the results were none too flattering.

The second bite at the ‘public consultation cherry’ was the more formal occasion when the council received the planning application.

On 9 October I asked Chief Executive, Stephen Hughes, who has taken over from the departed Clive Dutton, whether all the comments that were submitted by objectors would be made public. His first reply was a firm ‘Yes’. All comments, he confirmed, would be published ‘via the website’.

Unable to take ‘yes’ for an answer I then asked him how and when they would be published, as he said that the application was likely to go before the planning committee on 26 November.

His second reply (12 November), stated rather surprisingly, ‘I can confirm that Birmingham City Council does not publish letters we receive in respect of planning applications on the web site. However, any comments we receive are summarised in the report to Committee. The letters are public documents, and are available for inspection in our Planning office at:

9th Floor
Alpha Tower
Suffolk Street Quensway
B1 1TU

So, I dutifully turned up on the 9th floor, expecting to be handed a wad of letters to browse through, but of course it wasn’t so simple. The files were on two separate parts of the council’s computer intranet which took the extremely helpful and apologetic staff and a duty planner half an hour to access for me.

What did I find when I got there?

One group of letters was called ‘consultation responses’ and were from the Access Committee, British Waterways, Severn Trent and English Heritage (who had replied that it was not necessary to consult them anyway). I was surprised not to see a letter from the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE) as I knew they did not approve of the design. I was told that CABE’s submission was on its own website and not formally submitted.

I also expected to see a letter from the Birmingham Civic Society, as they too had expressed reservations in their own journal, but it was not there.

There was no sign of a letter from the Library of Birmingham Scrutiny Review Group who would surely have a view about the design.

A second group was called ‘planning permission responses’. There were 7 letters here, all of which objected to the application. Along with letters from our own John Madin, Mark Jackson, Frank Brophy and Hazel Clawley, were three from people we don’t know – John Davison, Robert Rush and W Humphries.

As far as I could make out the planners had written to 279 ‘neighbours’, 19 had replied, 8 objected and only one supported the application.

Is it surprising then that Mr Hughes doesn’t want this negative material spread around or made too easily available to the public?

And we shall have read what the planning officer will do with it in his report to committee in Democracy in Birmingham on the council website a week before the meeting. 

Alan Clawley is Secretary of the Friends of the Central Library, which wants to preserve the existing building. 

Source: The Stirrer [16.11.09]