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English Heritage Slams Britannia Hotels

'Intense frustration', as Britannia Hotels renege on London Road Fire Station 'guarantees'

Written by . Published on March 6th 2012.

English Heritage Slams Britannia Hotels

IN a savage letter (in planning terms) English Heritage has rebuked Britannia Hotels and its boss Alex Langsam over London Road Fire Station.

I believe it is important that such a clear and influential commitment should be honoured and I would therefore ask you to implement the consent you have in line with Mr Langsam's quarantee.

On 22 February this year English Heritage sent a letter to Britannia Hotels in response to one sent on 8 February.

English Heritage are clearly embarrassed. 

They supported Britannia Hotels in their appeal against a compulsory purchase order (CPO) from Manchester City Council. The CPO was rejected at the end of November 2011.

English Heritage aided the Hotels group because 'with our advice and support, you (Britannia Hotels) developed a scheme which involves minimum intervention with the historic fabric. It is clear that minimum intervention with the historic fabric is the appropriate way forward and not the type of scheme that was discussed in a very preliminary way, three years ago and which raises serious concerns.'

The problem is that in the 8 February letter Britannia backtracks on their 'minimum intervention' scheme, instead they want to investigate a rehashed idea of putting a tower in the courtyard of the Fire Station, an option they say would be more financially viable.

Britannia Hotels say, 'Developing the scheme as it stands, would not be sustainable either in the current climate or the foreseeable future, so we need to get feedback on the previous scheme option.'

English Heritage clearly consider this as a simple rejection of a previous commitment.

And also a stalling exercise.

As noted previously on Confidential, as a result of the CPO public enquiry, Britannia made a public pledge to return London Road Fire Station to use as a high quality hotel as soon as possible - with the first phase of work starting three months after the rejection of the CPO. The tower idea, which would have to be properly costed and would, even if acceptable, add months of delay, perhaps years. 

English Heritage continue in their letter.

'There was a very clear commitment given by Britannia Hotels to the CPO inquiry that you would take forward the consented scheme. In particular Mr Alexander Langsam wrote to the Inspector on 9 June 2011, 'I can quarantee to the Inspector and the Secretary of State that I will fund (the building) to ensure that, in the event that the CPO is not confirmed, the planning permission and listing building consent in respect of the London Fire Station are implemented as soon as reasonably possible'. This statement was taken into account by the Inspector and the Secretary of State in reaching the decision not to confirm the CPO.' 

'I believe it is important that such a clear and influential commitment should be honoured and I would therefore ask you to implement the consent you have in line with Mr Langsam's quarantee.'

The letter concludes: 'I am sorry to write in such blunt terms but I am sure you will understand English Heritage's intense frustration'.

That frustration is reflected at Manchester City Council.

This is from the latest Chief Executive's Report recommendations:

'The Executive agrees to: Record its profound disappointment in the Fire Station owner’s failure to honour the spirit of the commitment given on 9th June 2011 in the CPO public inquiry to implement the planning permission and listed building consent as soon as reasonably possible.'


Everybody in Manchester who cares about London Road Fire Station's development will feel the same, while also wondering why companies involve themselves in such small-minded, silly games. 

What a mess.

And this time it all seems of Britannia Hotels making. We've put a call out for a response and a show-round but have yet to receive an answer.

The question is this.

Were the assurances given by Britannia Hotels to English Heritage simply a means to an end in winning the battle over the CPO with Manchester City Council, and nothing about the eventual development of this important gateway building into the city centre? 

It appears the answer to that question is yes. And maybe we shouldn't be too surprised.

The report rejecting the CPO back in November had this from the Inspector: 'Britannia's witnesses made it very plain that the scheme is ready to proceed as soon as the threat of the CPO is removed and the funding is in place to allow that to happen. However, it is correct to observe that there is no evidence before the Inquiry of any company resolution to that effect. Mr Langsam's letter put in at the Inquiry is equivocal on the matter.'

In which case you have to wonder why the Inspector rejected the CPO.

No wonder English Heritage feels such 'intense frustration'.

Everybody in Manchester who cares about the city's development will feel the same, while also wondering why companies involve themselves in such small-minded, silly games. 

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

Manchester City Council's full message to Britannia Hotels following the latest developments.

The Executive agrees to

1) Record its profound disappointment in the Fire Station owner’s failure to honour the spirit of the commitment given on 9th June 2011 in the CPO public inquiry to implement the planning permission and listed building consent as soon as reasonably possible.

2) Urge the owner of the Fire Station to review its strategy for redevelopment of the building without delay and to respond positively to the invitation to work constructively with the City Council and English Heritage to ensure implementation of the planning and listed building consent as soon as possible as this is the key to preserving the heritage value of the building and to maintaining regeneration momentum in this part of the City Centre.

3) Urge the owner of the Fire Station to act in the best interests of the well being of Manchester which demand that if it has not the capacity to implement  the current consents, the owner takes urgent steps to dispose of the building to a new owner which has the willingness and capacity to redevelop the Fire Station in line with the current consents in the shortest possible time.

4) Confirm that the Council remains willing to enter into immediate discussions to acquire the building for market value to enable the crucial objective of preserving the building and maintaining regeneration momentum to be achieved. The Council would then facilitate the development of the building in the shortest possible time;

5) Request that the Chief Executive communicates the above resolutions to the owner and brings a report to the next meeting of the Executive, which if necessary explores all the available options to achieve the Council’s regeneration objectives.'


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

pammyranMarch 6th 2012.

Un-bloody-believable, or unfortunately, rather not, as I'm sure most people expected the abhorable Britannia Hotels/Alex Langsam to ashamedly renege on their promises. Disgraceful affair!

Calum McGMarch 6th 2012.

This is so utterly ridiculous. Either do something with the site (and start making money from it) or sell it and spend money on projects elsewhere. It's sat there like a (terracotta) white elephant doing nothing, creating a crap impression for visitors (and locals) and is an utter waste of a city centre site + fantastic building. It's. Just. Bonkers.

Simon SmithMarch 6th 2012.

One solution is for English to have its influence greatly reduced so it deals with only the truly historic and valuable buildings in England.

There's no need for the fate of a relatively unimportant building to have so much input from a busybody quango.

Bureaucracies always make work for themselves.

3 Responses: Reply To This...
Calum McGMarch 7th 2012.

Don't you think that this is a historic and valuable building? I'd beg to differ. I think it's a masterpiece. Obviously it needs cleaning up and turning back into a beauty of a building...

Lee HutchingsMarch 7th 2012.

Two sentances of utter rubbish! thank christ you dont work for English Heritage! I work in the historic buildings sector and have worked on london Road Fire Station and it is the most amazing building ive ever worked on, inside and out, Alex Langsam needs to sort himself out as I know through my work that he doesnt care a jott about doing up the site. . and Simon, iF EH didnt have a say in these matters, most of what you see around you of any historical worth all over the country would simply not exist

Duke FameMarch 11th 2012.

I tend to agree with Simon. I'm sure Britannia will develop it when there is a demand for more hotel rooms or they will sell when property prices goes up.

If it's really that important to the folks who like to tell other people what to do with their money, why not put their money where their mouth is and make Britannia an offer.

ShuttyMarch 6th 2012.

Well done English Heritage. Hope you're proud of yourselves for being so easily duped. MCC were not attempting a CPO for fun you know and now we all lose!

Chorlton GalMarch 6th 2012.

Simon Smith - are we talking about the same building here? London Road Fire Station is an absolutely stunning building and hugely important in giving people arriving at Piccadilly Station a positive first impression of the City.

Phil MurphyMarch 6th 2012.

Everybody in Manchester knew this would happen. That's why the decision should have been made in Manchester and people like the Secretary of State and English Heritage should listen to people in Manchester when deciding what should and should not happen in Manchester.
As soon as I realised that E Pickles would have an influence the whole saga had this outcome written all over it.
Now sit back and watch months turn into many months if not years of spats played out in the public domain as MCC try to push Langsam while English Heritage stand on the sidelines crying ... as the building gradually falls to bits. English Heritage, Langsam and Pickles should be ashamed of themselves.

AnonymousMarch 6th 2012.

There appears to be little market for develpment except for cheepo hotels like the German effort on the otherside of Whitworth whose attempt and anonimity is actually offensive.

Howard B tell us that another hotel operator is sniffing at the old employment exchange on Aytoun Street. No doubt yet another will want the rather better MMU Aytoun site.

There is the whole area on Fairfield St beyond London Rd which could take some more (it was suppoed to be a mini medical quarter)

Actually hotels are as bad as pedestrianisation is alledged to be at killing an area.

It would probably be great if Langsam really did something but get rather better managment in thanhis existing examples of the brand in the City Centre.

tblzebraMarch 7th 2012.

Can anyone shed any light on why Langsam keeps doing this, particularly with such an important 'gateway' building near the main railway station?

Charlie BMarch 7th 2012.

TBLZEBRA I think the truth is contained in the sentence in the article: 'Were the assurances given by Britannia Hotels to English Heritage simply a means to an end in winning the battle over the CPO with Manchester City Council, and nothing about the eventual development of this important gateway building into the city centre?' It was all about pride and a personal fight to win the battle against MCC. Childish.

AlanMarch 7th 2012.

A Disgrace !! Britannia bought the building for peanuts, and have let it become an eye-saw to visitors arriving at Piccadilly stn, throw the book at them and force them to do what they promised to, MCC should fight on, and get all the costs back for the tax payer, Britannia you are a disgrace to the name you use. Hope the people of Manchester make sure that we stop using any of the Britannia group hotels and bars, hit them where it hurts, they clearly have no scruples!!

1 Response: Reply To This...
gimboidMarch 7th 2012.

An eye-saw sounds very painful.

tbboy87March 7th 2012.

if they don't want to do anything with it why not let the company trying to destroy legends build there instead that way we keep an iconic manchester club AND the building finally gets used.

AnonymousMarch 7th 2012.

Quick question... How many 4 star hotels do Brittania currently operate..... I dont believe they have any intension of redeveloping this Manchester gateway landmark. Having had the pleasure of walking around this fantastic building, I was saddened to see the building in such a state of dis-repair, and it being used as storage for all the tat that Brittania have hoarded over the years....

PavraoMarch 7th 2012.

Time for the council to issue another CPO.Take it back and bring back the building to life.Its such a beautiful structure at such a great location. And this time make sure the paper work is tight and the developer cannot back out without a penalty.

AnonymousMarch 7th 2012.

There was an original outline proposal, a couple of years back - backed by Manchester Council, to turn the Fire Station into a media centre, with a concert hall in the centre, surrounded by sound studios, offices and possibly an hotel. This would have fitted in with Manchester's musical background. I think the developers were Argent. Perhaps these proposed plans should be looked at realistically again?

Elsie LoweMarch 7th 2012.

Is this going to be another case were we wait till the building is in such a state that it has to be demolished as has happened to so many historic buildings.

Silva DaveMarch 7th 2012.

Anonymous - that's what the CPO was for. The council spent a lot of money (millions) pursuing it only for it to be rejected, seemingly because EH believed Britannia's spiel and that was enough to convince the SoS Pickles too. I wonder if they do build the tower though, will it have internal rooms with no windows like Sachas, to give visitors an extra favourable impression of our fair city? "Come back soon y'all!"

AnonymousMarch 7th 2012.

I cannot believe that this has been allowed to happen. Anybody who believes that Britannia will ever do anything decent with this fantastic building is an idiot. Look at their track record with other buildings in Manchester. I feel that they bring this fantastic city down with their cheap and crappy establishments and wish they would just sell the lot to be honest. In the real world that is never going to happen but whoever was involved in rejecting the CPO should take note of events and do something about it and hopefully this beautiful building can be brought back into use as something for the people of manchester rather than a crappy hotel that most manchester residents would never set foot in.

tblzebraMarch 7th 2012.

Imposing financial penalties on Langsam for non-compliance is a fantastic suggestion. Can that be done?

I hope MCC won't have to back down due to the immense potential cost of continuing to fight this.

AnonymousMarch 8th 2012.

But English Heritage didn't support Britannia during the attempted CPO. They supported the City Council.

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMarch 8th 2012.

A quick search online shows that English Heritage were part of the City Council's team in supporting the CPO.
It's a shame the building seems to be the loser in this battle.
It's also a shame reporters can't seem to research a story properly.

anneiaMarch 8th 2012.

i would like to know if there is a breach here, If they led the Heritage up the garden path then renege on the deal, can they be brought to task. I love this building since my childhood ckeaned up it will look amazing. Why believe Langsam, should have had a public meeting involving the people of Manchester, we can complain if were not involved.
MCC buy this building back for Manchester. Born n bred in Manchester I would like to see this restored to its glory would make a great focal point around picadilly station.
Langsam not unlike Landsley messing up the NHS reforms.

Phil BurkeMarch 8th 2012.

Please could we find out the reasons why Alex Langsam has pulled out of the agreement reached at the high court hearing a couple of months ago ,

Could this be because Alex Langsam could not squeeze any more money from the English Heritage funds for his new hotel plans , after all he had already received thousands of pounds over the years towards the up keep for both the Britannia and Sachas Hotel

He has never spent a penny of the money on the two tatty hotels, I wish somebody would look under the freedom of information to see just how much money has been given over the many years in cash handouts by English Heritage to the Britannia Hotels ,

ConcernedMarch 10th 2012.

So a firm can give evidence at an Enquiry and lie?
Sorry this needs a serious legal review.
Please everyone get a petition to get access to this building and get it public. The way BH have behaved throughout this is without any honour.

Duke FameMarch 11th 2012.

I don't think the council should go for a CPO, where is the money coming from and what will they do with it. They own / operate / manage far too much empty property in town as it is. Councils are for cleaning the streets / street lighting etc. Stop trying to be property developers, you are not up to the job.

AnonymousMarch 11th 2012.

OK, it's quite a nice building - but at the end of the day, it's just that, a building. All these shouts for public enquiries and legal reviews, get a grip. The state the whole country, nay world, is in, and you're getting your knickers in a twist about a building that's been derelict for years and want the Council to waste even more money trying to buy it? Agree with Duke above - the Council should stick to what they're paid to do, and he's right, they already own a huge amount of empty property around town. Any of those ranters above care to pay extra Council Tax to help MCC play Monopoly with public money?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
gimboidMarch 11th 2012.

Hmm. I think you're in the minority.
Many, many buildings, a crucial part of our heritage, that links us with our history, have been lost due to people thinking of them as 'just a building'.
Manchester's remaining historic buildings are economic assets, so your assertion that its wasteful to spend public money on preserving them is flawed.

Duke FameMarch 11th 2012.

Gumboid, if people care so much, they should make Britannia an offer and either put up or shut up.

It's a nice enough building but how do you conclude the council will put it to good use? They are responsible for the vast majority of unused buildings in town, far more than Britannia hotels. Whilst the council are crying poverty and blaming the coalition, they will look pretty stupid trying to buy a disused fire station.

AnonymousMarch 18th 2012.

Langsam; a German word meaning boring. Somehow it seems appropriate.
That this saga should have ever been allowed to go on this long is a disgrace. If he now reneges on a High Court Agreement, then he should be slammed with costs and forced to hand-over (not sell) the building to the council. The council should then have the opportunity to bring in someone who will do something properly with the building.
It's disgraceful that a beautiful art-deco building like this has been allowed to degrade for over 25 years.

1 Response: Reply To This...
DerderderFebruary 5th 2013.

Langsam means slowly in German. Langweilig means boring.

So der.

Adam PrinceOctober 7th 2012.

Please sign my new online petition. The public must express their anger and disgust in this situation. Please blog about this appalling situation and the appalling Britannia and share on facebook, twitter & email! www.ipetitions.com/…/signatures…

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