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Canal restoration row threatens to halt £100m plan for Selly Oak life sciences campus

Canal restoration row threatens to halt £100m plan for Selly Oak life sciences campus

🕔02.Sep 2013

A key component of Birmingham’s economic future – the development of a medical sciences research and development campus at Selly Oak – is in danger of being blocked in a row about restoring the city’s 18th century industrial heritage.

Campaigners, including a city council cabinet member, are opposing a move by Land Securities and Sainsbury’s to redevelop the former Birmingham Battery Site because the scheme fails to re-open the Lapal Canal, which was abandoned in 1917 and infilled during the 1950s.

Objectors are also claiming that the developers are not paying enough towards the next phase of the Selly Oak New Road, and that proposed student flats at the life sciences campus are an unnecessary intrusion.

The Battery Park scheme, thought to be worth more than £100 million, is one of the largest and most significant planning applications in Birmingham since the credit crunch began to bite in 2008.

It would bring back into use a vast area that has lain polluted and derelict for a quarter of a century.

The life sciences campus is one of six new economic zones that are being promoted by the city council.

It will be owned by the council and cover a third of the site, with the rest of the Battery Park land to be occupied by a Sainsbury’s superstore, shops and student accommodation.

When up and running, the campus is forecast to have an annual turnover of £236 million and will generate GVA of £117 million, according to the council.

The whole scheme is expected to create about 2,700 jobs.

Sainsbury’s initially planned to re-open the Lapal Canal in return for obtaining planning permission.

But the council’s requirement for a third of the site to house the life sciences campus resulted in new financial calculations by the developers, who decided they could no longer afford the £3.4 million cost of opening up the canal.

Land Securities and Sainsbury’s, operating through the Harvest Partnership, have now offered to ‘safeguard’ the route of the Lapal Canal, which runs underneath the new superstore.

They are proposing to pay £1.6 million for a pedestrian walkway and cycle route, the Greenway, which would be safeguarded from future development to enable the canal to be fully restored in the future when money to do so is available.

The Greenway is part of a £6 million contribution from the Harvest Partnership to pay for highways improvements and work to the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. The partnership would also contribute toward the cost of Phase 1B of the Selly Oak New Road, which involves widening Harborne Lane.

The developers will also cover the cost of clearing pollution at the former battery site, a task that is estimated to cost £20 million and will take 18 months to complete.

The Battery Park application will be before Birmingham planning committee this Thursday with a recommendation from officers to approve a scheme with “highly significant and multiple benefits”.

But the committee has shown itself reluctant in the past to back the proposal in its present form.

Objectors include Brigid Jones, the cabinet member for children, young people and families, who is a Selly Oak councillor.

Cllr Jones has said a canal link “with water” should be a key part of the development. She has criticised the developers for demolishing the “landmark” former Battery building and is insisting that Sainsbury’s restore the Lapal Canal to “repair community trust”.

She is also opposing the proposed 1,000-bed student accommodation.

She has been joined by Selly Oak Ward Labour Party, the Selly Oak Ward Committee, Edgbaston Ward Committee, organisations representing Britain’s canals network and 172 individual letter writers.

A report to the planning committee sets out the case for approving the Battery Park scheme: “The UK is a world leader in Life Sciences and Birmingham already has an international reputation and proven track record in clinical academic programmes, trials and translational research.

“There are multiple opportunities for interactions with the nearby hospitals (including the Institute of Translational Medicine), Medical School, University, and Research Park (including the future Bio-Medical Innovation Hub).

“The proposals would deliver a high quality environment with a self-contained campus in a landscaped setting, in an excellent location for public transport and road access, and with related institutions nearby.”

Harvest Partnership pointed out that, with 18,000 people registered as unemployed in Selly Oak, their scheme would provide a welcome injection of new jobs.

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