PLANS to expand the Touchwood Shopping Centre were set to be heard before planning committee last night (November 4).
The proposals were recommended for approval despite public concerns the expansion could detrimentally affect the historic town centre.
If given the green light by planning chiefs, the plans would see the creation of 30 extra shops and restaurants through the addition of a two-storey covered arcade connected to the existing Touchwood centre.
An open-air pedestrian street would lead from the High Street to a new public courtyard, known as New Court, which would act as a crossroads between the new arcade, High Street and Church Hill Road.
And by creating a new link between Touchwood and the High Street, developers hope there will be greater footfall through Mell Square.
The plans also detail a two-storey, glass-fronted unit, called ‘The Belvedere’, which will face St Alphege Church and proposals to demolish the current Solihull Council offices, Orchard House, in order to make room for the expansion.
In return, the Council’s other offices – Church Hill House – will be refurbished and extended.
Initial public consultations boasted positive feedback – with 81 per cent of the 270 completed questionnaires returning a favorable response to extension proposals.
But the plans have also received 328 objections and two petitions, many of which raise concerns over the expansion’s impact on Solihull’s historic High Street and Listed buildings.
While raising no objection in principle to the proposals, conservation body Historic England raised concerns the glass-heavy design of ‘The Belvedere’ would ‘not be in keeping’ with the existing character of that part of town and would ‘fail to preserve or enhance the conservation area and setting’ of the Grade 1 Listed St Alphege Church.
And with no additional car parking proposed, others are worried plans to close informal drop-off point at Church Hill Road and instead extend the private hire taxi bay on Homer Road to include pick up and drop off would pose accessibility issues for disabled people.
Speaking ahead of last night’s meeting, a Solihull Council spokesperson said: “Solihull Council’s planning committee will be considering Lend Lease’s planning application for the extension of Touchwood.
“The committee will discuss the report as well as hearing from 14 councillors and members of the public on their views of this application, before making a decision based on UK planning law and Solihull Council’s planning policies.”
* Make sure you check our website – www.solihullobserver.co.uk – and social media for the very latest on the decision.