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EXCLUSIVE: Alex Langsam breaks silence

Simon Binns tracks down the elusive and 'victimised' London Road Fire Station owner

Written by . Published on September 12th 2010.

EXCLUSIVE: Alex Langsam breaks silence

Alex Langsam, owner of the controversial London Road Fire Station, has told Manchester Confidential that he will fight the city council’s attempts to take it off him.

“But it’s been plain for the last six years that (the council) wanted to take the fire station off us and give it to Argent. The council has always presented a case to us for Argent taking on the scheme. The council doesn’t want to work with us. It wants to work with Argent.”


Langsam also said the council had to take its share of the blame for the delay in redeveloping the building, which is set to go before a planning committee on September 16.


“We have appealed to government about the CPO,” he said. “I’m still keen to redevelop the building and having finally got into a position to be able to do it, it’s frustrating to have the CPO issued.


“The council has held us up at every stage – even the planning committee date was delayed from the end of August. They want us to redevelop it in three years, we are saying it will take four. I don’t think that’s so far apart as to warrant a CPO. You don’t know what you’re going to get with a building like the Fire Station.


“The council has put so many conditions on what they want from us that they could take it off us while we are halfway through developing it. But we’ve jumped through every hoop. To stymie us they’ve decided to issue a CPO when we were on the threshold.”


The intensely private Langsam, who normally shies away from interviews or media coverage, also blasted the council’s decision to invest millions of pounds in other commercial schemes. These include Ask Developments’ First Street, which was given a loan of £3m, and Allied London’s Spinningfields, which the council invested £15m into in March, on a sale and leaseback of the next phase.

2010811Story-LondonroadfirestationonceuponatimeLRFS - once upon a time


Langsam claims he has £30m to redevelop the fire station and the council should be supporting a local private sector firm with money to spend.


“I certainly feel that we’re being victimised and treated unfairly compared to other developers,” he said. “I notice the council has invested millions in other commercial schemes in Manchester. I think that would be better spent on municipal housing.


He said the decision was motivated by the council’s desire to hand the building over to rival developer Argent, which owns the nearby Piccadilly Place office scheme.


“We’ve got £30m in the bank to spend on the fire station. We don’t have to go out and get a loan,” he said.


“But it’s been plain for the last six years that (the council) wanted to take the fire station off us and give it to Argent. The council has always presented a case to us for Argent taking on the scheme. The council doesn’t want to work with us. It wants to work with Argent.


“As delays have happened, we have been shown in a bad light. The public’s perception of what has gone on is based on an argument, not reality. We’ve been put in a difficult position.


“We’re optimistic we will get planning permission and will be allowed to redevelop the building. We’ve had approaches – three or four serious offers – to sell the building based on all the publicity the CPO has created. But I want to develop it myself. The council has blocked all our attempts to do this. It has rejected all of our plans. It has cancelled meetings and delayed getting back to us over certain issues.”


A Manchester City Council spokesman said the building had become an “eyesore” and nothing had been delivered by Britannia since 1986, when it took ownership, despite several abortive plans.


"Britannia Hotels has owned this important building for a generation,” said the council. “During this time the country has gone through a number of economic cycles but London Road Fire Station has still not been developed. I think that speaks for itself.


“Every word of the statement which we issued in August when the Compulsory Purchase Order was made still stands. The council's consistent aim has been to bring this building back into use and since Britannia has not done this we would welcome any developer with the commitment and track record to bring the Fire Station back into use."


Terracotta dreams - the original building


The London Road Fire Station was completed in 1906, designed by Woodhouse, Willoughby and Langham. Originally there was accommodation for more than forty policemen and firemen and their families, stables, a bank, fireman’s library, gymnasium, children’s playground as well as the fire appliances. The main tower was used for drying out hosepipes.


The exterior was faced in voguish terracotta, which was taking over the city at this time: think Midland Hotel, Lancaster House, Refuge Assurance (Palace Hotel). The architect Woodhouse would later be involved with the best of the terracotta buildings, the YMCA, on Peter Street.


Like the Town Hall, the building occupies the whole of a triangular island site. It’s rich in sculpture full of relevant symbolism and has some good art nouveau metalwork details. The building was abandoned in 1986 when the fire brigade moved to new premises in Ancoats. For the last 24 years it's been an advertisement for Mancunian dereliction for travellers and visitors arriving at Piccadilly Station - a terrible scar on the face of the city. (JS)

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35 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Burt CodeineSeptember 9th 2010.

As soon as a light bulb blows in my home I set out to replace it. Either I have a few spares or I'll pop to the local store to collect a couple more. I don't issue a statement proclaiming my intention all those years ago was to replace each one once the market was right or summat...the rest of the groups hotels in the city speak for themselves.
"Fool Britannia, Britannia..." (isn't there a bar called Waves in the Britiannia Hotel ironically enough?)

Ray ConnaughtSeptember 9th 2010.

I don't believe a f*cking word he writes. His hotels take the piss out of their customers with their shocking fixtures and fittings - and terrible food and drink. He's a total cowboy.

Lisa AshurstSeptember 9th 2010.

The Britannia Group has owned this beautiful building for ages and done nothing. It's all excuses. The Fire Station could and should be a busy, exciting and glorious advert for our City. Even if the owner wins fight over the CPO, based on my experience of other hotels owned by the group, I don't hold out much hope for its future I am afraid.

AnonymousSeptember 9th 2010.

Hardly the most illuminating of interviews. Has someone cut mancon's claws? Where's the demands for an explanation of how this company has allowed a building like this to rot for 25 YEARS!!! pardon the shouting, but come on - this reads like Trevor macdonald interviewing the queen. I hope you asked "is there anything else mr langsam would like to add?". Brittannia's actions have been shameful and the sooner this landmark site is taken off them the better.

Smyth HarperSeptember 9th 2010.

Hasn't the Britannia in Stockport been dubbed the worst hotel in britain? Several times? Why doesn't he spend some of the thirty million in the bank on that?

Stuart BamberSeptember 9th 2010.

I recall at least one Britannia in the area being closed due to filthy kitchens and general Health & Safety failings... (goes away to check)


Yep, we expect more bite from ManCon.

J E SibberingSeptember 9th 2010.

The (gentleman) doth protest too much, methinks.

Since when did Britannia group invest significantly in ANY historic property they own?

AnonymousSeptember 9th 2010.

We should be nice to them so that we can ask them an inside tour. Also, ask Dan Dubowitz to take nice photo...

AnonymousSeptember 10th 2010.

On the site, there is actually a notice by City Council about the plan to "convert 4-star hotel", dated Jun 10. I could also see something is going on inside, some scaffolding and a car with a logo "BRITANIA". So, I am a bit confused.

Simon Binns - News EditorSeptember 10th 2010.

Anon - plans were submitted for a hotel scheme by Britannia in June; they are due before planning on September 16.

AnonymousSeptember 10th 2010.

I've stayed in all kinds of hotels, all over the world and me and my husband have a way to describe the worst easily 'just like a brittania'. Honestly, this must be the worst hotel group in the country by a mile. The shame being some of them could actually be ok with just a little effort.

BeccaSeptember 10th 2010.

Ugh, a Britannia hotel, really?

This stunning building should be done over like the Craft Centre in the NQ: turn it into a cultural centre, gallery space, maybe a few shops. Oh, and there's got to be space in there for an awesome nightclub.

Failing that, do what Manchester does best: turn it into flats. Yawwwn./

Either way, Britannia should not be allowed to turn this stunning building into a joke of a hotel.

dennisonSeptember 10th 2010.

I used to work for Central manchester Development Corporation in the '90's & tried many times to give Brittania a grant to refurbish the Fire Station. Couldn't even get them to do it with free money so I have no confidence they would ever spend their own. On the subject of their hotels I made the mistake of staying in one of theirs in Folkestone recently. My wife went for a swim & had to get out because the pool was filthy & I couldn't find a solitary edible item on the buffet breakfast. I did however used to enjoy the soul room in the back of Saturdays nightclub in the late '80's.

AnonymousSeptember 10th 2010.

Langsam - German for slowly. Makes sense

Kevin PeelSeptember 10th 2010.

I think what is important is that the building is redeveloped as soon as possible, so that local residents and visitors to the city don't have to put up with the eyesore it has sadly become. I hope any scheme is sympathetic to the original architecture and fantastic sculptures of the building.

MaggsSeptember 10th 2010.

PLEASE spare us from any more Brittania Hotels - I don't know anyone with a good word to say about them. It would be a complete travesty to allow another one in such an iconic building!!

m19redSeptember 10th 2010.

the guy is having a laugh. forced into making a planning application because CPO regulations require a site owner to have taken 'reasonable endeavours' to develop a site. it is also dependent on the rationale for the cpo, the Council's case will be on the basis of the preservation of the historical and architectural significance of the building, public benefit and preservation. none of these things are on langsam's agenda. it is ironic however that the council sold the building to him quite some time ago now for jack all. what goes around comes around.

JohnSeptember 10th 2010.

Would be great as something like the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane , London. INDEPENDENT bars , shops, food , market etc.Not something like the Triangle which is a disgrace to that building as it once was.

AnonymousSeptember 10th 2010.

If Britannia has £30M in the bank, they should spend it on their existing hotels, they certainly need it.
Pleazzzzzzzzzzze, we dont need another one ( Britannia) in our city.

James11364September 10th 2010.

If argent is so keen why don't they take over the employment exchange building in Aytoun Street. I can't see anyone making money out the fire station except on a gut and build within the walls scheme.

Fire in the discoSeptember 10th 2010.

This is a disgrace. Their hotels are a joke and I am ashamed to think visitors to the city might have the misfortune to stay in them.

This building is a grand reminder of when function and flair could be combined and a great example of civic pride.

Anything here is better than the current state, although something which retains as much of the original as possible is obviously better.

One suggestion - move the Manchester Fire Museum to the site as part of a more commercial redevelopment. It would be a great addition to the city's offer and solve the problem of the "empty ground floors" we can see at many new developments. Its currently at Rochdale fire station, which is probably on its last legs and this would be a fitting new home, whilst allowing some of the original features (i.e. the engine bay) to be shown in the way the architect intended. (and many of the people who worked their remember)

The Truman ShowSeptember 10th 2010.

After some light googling. I have concluded that the Old Truman Brewery suggestion above looks like quite a good precedent, albeit on a larger scale - mixed-use including 'creative businesses', bars, shops, event spaces, offices etc. Good shout John.

Chris PaulSeptember 10th 2010.

24 years is plenty. This guy is a chancer and someone for whom quality ain't really that important. In my opinion. Taking it off him is long overdue. I wish Workspace Centres (who established 23 New Mount Street) had got it off him. I only hope there is some imagination applied to the development. I would personally prefer a Trust to be backed by MCC and others to develop the space in more interesting ways than either Langsam or Argent would be likely to manage. Urbis ii maybe, a (possibly dry, possibly just v special) family hotel perhaps, crafters, a gallery/museum/venue, an arcadey make/sell thing, some artists in residence who really are residents, an actual community centre/village hall for city centre residents would be cool. Don't want a bog standard flats and shops. Would love it to be an AH Wilson Centre for the *quiet* end of Manc culture and philosophy.

Mike CainSeptember 10th 2010.

The old fire station is in a prime position to greet new arrivals to Manchester by train at piccadilly, by road along the A6 or by motorway M57 at Mancunian Way. Britannia Hotels in any location are not a good advert for the city, as they all seem badly run and have a very poor reputation.

AnonymousSeptember 10th 2010.

I'm so pleased this amazing building is getting some publicity-it's quite possibly the second jewel in Manchester's crown after the Town Hall. The art nouveau details are amazing but the whole concept of the fireman family village and the cool tower feature .........wow! ..... I hope someone will rescue it for posterity. Britannia certainly don't deserve it.

SlowSeptember 11th 2010.

Doesn't the name of the owner give it all away?

AnonymousSeptember 11th 2010.

Eh? That was directed at 'slow' BTW.

SlowSeptember 11th 2010.

Anon you are thick...

AnonymousSeptember 11th 2010.

If the owner of this building can't decide what to do with it why should the council pester and threaten him with a CPO? It's one building in a city still full of dereliction.

If the authorities are so worried about unused buildings in the city centre then the old employment exchange on Aytoun St is a bigger eyesore and in a more prominent location.

Seems like a private owner is bullied while the government can do as it likes with buildings it no longer wants.

BeccaSeptember 13th 2010.

Anonymous, you're wrong. The Employment Exchange is an issue, but the Fire Station is older, more stunning, and stands to be a much bigger loss if left to dereliciton or a bad do-up job.

As for prominence of location, the Fire Station is far more prominent than the Exchange, It is the first thing many visitors to the city see, whereas I'd argue that the Exchange is rather tucked away.

AgricolaSeptember 13th 2010.

Slow. I'm thick too. What do you mean about the name?

Really SlowSeptember 13th 2010.

Langsam = Slow for all the English-only pseudo-cosmopolitans.

DibigoSeptember 13th 2010.

You've told us twice now that you know a German word. Get over it.

Proper SlowSeptember 13th 2010.

thanks for not swearing

Bobby BJanuary 9th 2011.

For over the past 20 years the Britannia Hotel group have led the city council clearly up the garden path , I say that because every year the planning dept hold talks with the owner Alex Langson who then appear to submit planning proposals into the planning dept in the town hall this is just to take the pressure of them from doing nothing , just playing for more time.

And given the fact they the owners have claimed thousands of pounds in grants from different organizations including the English Heritage Group to take the Old Fire Station , and also the Britannia Hotel on Portland street over ,

They were also given follow up grants to keep the up keep of these building in top condition, and if you look at the sale transaction on the sale of the building years ago you will se they brought the building for just 1p of their own money and used the money given to them in grants to pay the rest , just check the land deeds as to prove just where the money came from.

Furthermore Langsam was able to claim the grants because of his connections with certain contact he had with a government official at the time ,

Also do visors to our wonder city have to walk out of the train station to see a cheap and tatty , full of tatty stained and broken furnisher in the rooms , you only have to stay at either the Britannia Portland street or even Sachas Hotel to prove this point , even more so if may be give a room with heating or without , and if you do get heating beware that the heating gets turned off at night time to save money , this was confirmed to us by the daytime duty manager last time we stayed at the hotel to why our room was cold

The council should not waste any more time and they should take this building from the tight fisted owner and let somebody else open a decent hotel in the complex

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