Library still on Death Row

In the first of two articles, Alan Clawley reveals details of a meeting with the Paradise Circus developers.

My half-hour meeting with Argent boss Rob Groves last week about Paradise Circus left me little the wiser about when work on the ground will begin and how it will progress over the next few years.

I had expected him to bring out some large-scale plans for me to see, as it’s easier to picture oneself in a place when plans are big. But I was only offered a little fold-out brochure on which was a small plan of Paradise Circus with the proposed blocks labelled A to I.

As I had already guessed, the first phase of the scheme will be in the northern half of the site because the Conservatoire is not likely to move before 2017. The first new block to be built will be ‘D’ which forms the northern side of the proposed pedestrian street between Chamberlain Square and Centenary Square. Argent has asked a number of architects to design something special here, which gave me the impression that he thought Glenn Howells’ design for block E on the south side of the street was OK but not terribly exciting. Groves has first-hand knowledge of Howells’ work because his office, where we met, is in Howells’ recently completed number 11 Brindley Place.

So we came to the question of when the Central Library would be demolished. Groves insisted that it would go in 2015 and that during the work pedestrians would be diverted round the south side of the demolition site to the bridge. The concrete platform which supports the present concourse would be retained until Phase 2 after the southern half of the site had been cleared.

Next year the eastern leg of the roundabout will be closed and traffic will be diverted onto the western leg which will become two-way. Argent is also negotiating with Centro to accommodate the proposed Metro extension from Stephenson Street to Five Ways.

The tram-lines would have to cross traffic to get to Broad Street, so there would be signals where there are none today. This looked like a bad idea and left me with more questions than answers.
What’s more the new road layout cannot be finalised until after the demolition of at least part of the Conservatoire at Paradise Street. It seems to me that a conventional, reasonably efficient roundabout will have been replaced with a contorted ‘question mark’ simply to give the developer more land to build on.

Groves promised full public consultation in Spring 2015. I pointed out that at present the public and the motoring fraternity were blissfully unaware of what was about to hit them

I was disappointed, as I have been with Groves’ predecessor Gary Taylor, at his lack of regret at having to destroy a great building. I thanked him for giving me his time and promised to meet him by the bulldozer

I think it strange that the city council says so little about Paradise Circus and leaves public relations entirely to the private developer. The council has never admitted to me that the development must follow a Strategic Development Protocol which lays down clear obligations about community consultation on the timing and phasing of the scheme.

I can’t avoid the conclusion that this is because the council is itself the developer along with Argent with whom it has a Joint Venture Agreement. So the council can be more lenient to itself than to other developers. But we will never know because the facts about their relationship are kept secret using powers enshrined in the ironically-named Freedom of Information Act.