The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings

D-day for threatened 1930s fire station

Photo credit: Ell Brown

Photo credit: Ell Brown

Birmingham City Council’s planning committee will decide today on the future of the city’s former Central Fire Station on Corporation Street. We are strongly objecting to the proposals for a 23 storey tower of student accommodation behind the principal facades of the building on the grounds that it is out of place and will completely dwarf this grade II listed fire station.

In the listing description English Heritage recognise the national importance of this building as “one of the finest fire bridgade ensembles of the mid-twentieth century”. Built in 1935 to the designs of the city surveyors Herbert Humphries and Herbert J. Manzoni, this impressive neo-georgian and ‘Moderne’ style civic building was designed to form a terminal feature to Corporation Street framed between the Victoria Law Courts and the Methodist Central Hall. Its portland stone entrance arch in particular provides an important landmark, and enhances the townscape of the conservation area surrounding it.

The fire station was designed to provide a contained community for the fire brigade includng offices, boardroom, flats, shops, social facilities including and even a theatre, and a rooftop children’s playground. Birmingham city council planners note in their report to the planning committee that, “the building has been little altered from when it was built in 1935 and still contains a number of attractive elements including a wood panelled board room, ornate lift, terrazzo flooring, art deco detailing in the recreation room and decorative ceramic tiling in the engine room.”

The 23 storey tower, proposed behind the facade in the drill yard of the fire station buildings, is over-scaled for the site and will dominate this listed building. Listed building legistation and national policy guidance exists to protect buildings from exactly this kind of development that pays little regard to its immediate historic context or setting. We believe that the fire station can still be successfully converted to student use with a more sensitive scheme that celebrates rather than ignores the building’s proud civic history.

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