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WALSALL: Calls to rethink “Lego” development

WALSALL: Calls to rethink “Lego” development

PIC: SMD Architects

Striking designs for an ambitious development aimed at bringing dozens of jobs in Walsall have been dismissed as ‘Lego’ – and sent back to the drawing board.

JMI Planning want to build a new leisure and commercial facilities on the historic Jabez Cliff leather factory site in Lower Forster Street and help create 85 jobs and bring in between £10-13 million of investment into the borough.

But concerns were raised by Walsall Council planning officers about the size and design of the part five and part three storey building and the impact it would have on neighbours.

The site is also part of the Lichfield Street Conservation Area and officers recommended refusal for the scheme.

Members of the authority’s planning committee backed the principle of the scheme but told architects to go back to the drawing board and come up with better designs.

Councillor Anthony Harris said: “The first impression of this building is it was designed by Lego.

“Quite frankly I don’t think it shows the imagination that should be addressed in a conservation area. And I don’t believe it is beyond architects to come up with something far more attractive in this area.

“Having said that, I think we should give the developers the opportunity to come back to us with alternatives and more progressive designs.”

The land is now disused and fenced off but was once home to the renowned saddle-making business Jabez Cliff, which was established in the town in 1793.

It was severely damaged in a huge fire as a result of a suspected arson attack in 2011 with the shell of the building that remained demolished shortly after.

The company had relocated to a new base in Aldridge Road two years before the fire but went into administration and ceased trading in 2014.

At the meeting on Thursday (November 4) James Malkin, of JMI Planning said: “Members have a stark choice to make.

“The proposal provides the regeneration and inward investment of a landmark brownfield site within the town.

“Our proposal will attract circa £10-13 million investment into Walsall and has the potential to create well over 85 direct and indirect jobs.

“The scheme will undoubtedly have an impact on the heritage assets however there is no direct harm or demolition of any listed structures.

“We therefore contend the benefits of this scheme clearly outweigh the minor harm.”

Councillor Mark Statham said: “I feel this is such a good opportunity for regeneration. It will generate 85 jobs. We have to look at the weighting of the conservation area.

“A new leisure facility, 85 jobs, minimal impact of overshadowing – I just find it unbelievable the conservation area can demand so much when it gives so little back.

“If we look at what we’ve got at the moment, it’s an eyesore. We’ve got an embarrassment and someone has brought something forward and the conservation area trumps anything.”

But fellow committee member Councillor Adam Hicken said: “It’s a conservation area and we have to value what little we’ve got left.

“I like the scheme and what it would bring. But it is in a conservation area and I understand what the officers are saying. Do you want this great big monstrosity the other side of the Arboretum?”

The committee decided to defer the application to allow the developers and architects to come up with “more imaginative” plans for the area.

Words: Gurdip Thandi, Local Democracy Reporter

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