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Fire Station CPO - Langsam Speaks, Council Replies

The Britannia boss on fighting the council, the council on the Britannia boss, and what we think

Written by . Published on December 13th 2011.

Fire Station CPO - Langsam Speaks, Council Replies

THE COUNCIL'S failed attempt to CPO the London Road Fire station may end up costing the local authority more than £1m, Confidential can reveal.

In an exclusive interview, Britannia Hotels boss Alex Langsam told Confidential he will be going after the council for the 'considerable' costs of defending the compulsory purchase order, and accused the authority of acting like a 'bully' over the historic and currently deteriorating building.

“What really offends me is that the city council has done a PR job on us suggesting we don’t develop hotels. We’ve developed plenty.”

The council has already had to stump up £700,000 to pay for its own costs of pursuing the case.

"We had to go out and carry out all sorts of reports to compile evidence to fight the CPO, as well as the cost of a good QC," said Langsam. "We have every intention to go for costs and this enquiry will definitely end up costing the council more than £1m."

"The decision clearly found that the enquiry saw through what the council were after. They wanted to give the building to (rival developers) Argent. We felt they weren't in a position to carry out the works.

"I think the council put forward their best argument but it was weak. If they'd been right and fair in issuing the CPO, we might have lost - but the fact of the matter is that they tried to bully us into handing over the building and it didn't work.”

Langsam said the council’s aggressive pursuit of the building was wrong and alleges that the council shows favouritism toward certain developers in the city. He also argued that many council-owned buildings – including the Town Hall – are in a worse state.

"During the case, part of our argument was that there is a whole host of listed buildings in and around Manchester, many of them owned by Manchester City Council, that are in a poor state, where nothing is being done to help them.

"Look at Heaton Hall. The council could have done something exceptional with that for the cost of the CPO enquiry.

Langsam also admitted that what he considers the sour relationship between him and the council. 

"It did become a personal feud I think," he said. "But it goes back further than just a CPO. This battle goes back seven years or so, when a partnership with Argent was first suggested. I was insulted by that. I don't like partnerships. I like redeveloping buildings.

"I didn't want to be pushed out. I was an upstart challenging the total disrespect with which they treated us.

"To say we weren't capable of running a four-star hotel is totally disrespectful. The council had to admit at the enquiry that Britannia Hotels is actually held in high regard and has a successful track record as a hotel operator.

Lrfs As It WasLondon Road Fire Station As It Was

"We stuck with Manchester in the depths of the last recession and we've seen the council break promises on parts of the city they were and weren't going to develop.

“What really offends me is that the city council has done a PR job on us suggesting we don’t develop hotels. We’ve developed plenty.”

Langsam refused to give a start date on development at the Fire Station however, which is certain to frustrate many onlookers who argue the last seven years is only a small part of the twenty-five the building has sat undeveloped.

"I can’t speculate. We can't just walk in and start straight away,” he said. “We've been thrown off schedule by almost 18 months and we've had to go and re-hire half a dozen consultancies to draw up new reports for redeveloping a listed building.

“We’d like to be able to say when we can start and finish but that normally assumes a smooth path through planning from the local authority. We can’t guarantee we’ll get that. What we do know is that the building would have sat there for another two years had it been given to Argent, while they looked for an operator. The council would have had to pay for the upkeep of the building too.

“But we are going to do exactly what we said, and exactly what we wanted to when we were given planning permission. Unfortunately, the council decided to launch the CPO two months later, so we weren’t able to, and that has what we’ve had to spend the last year fighting, instead of getting on with it.

"Now we just hope the council don't act in a vindictive manner as we try and develop the building. All I want is fair treatment.”

Manchester replies

We asked the Council for a response to some of the specific allegations levelled at them by Langsam.

With reference to the point about Heaton Park and its poor state the Council said this to us.

A Manchester City Council spokesman said: "Manchester takes it role as custodian of listed buildings very seriously, something which we would suggest that, in more than a quarter of a century of owning London Road Fire Station, Britannia have failed to do. We are, for instance, currently investing multi-millions in the refurbishment of the Grade II* listed Central Library and Town Hall Extension to improve services and restore these buildings to their former glory for the benefit of Manchester residents and future generations. 

"To suggest that we could have done 'something exceptional' with Heaton Hall for the cost of the public inquiry is bunk. This is a completely different case to London Road Fire Station. We have spent more than £350,000 on maintenance and repairs of this building in the last year alone but we have had to close the hall to the public temporarily while we explore long-term solutions to bring in the millions which will be needed to provide a long-term solution." 

In response to the point about partnerships the Council were equally forthright.  "Britannia may not believe in partnership but we do, which is why we have been able to work with partners on a host of successful developments. Spinningfields and NOMA, which we are working with the Co-operative Group to deliver, are bringing jobs and investment to the city and are just two such examples." 

The City also dismissed Langsam’s claims of being thrown off schedule by 18 months over re-development plans for the building.

"Britannia Hotels already have full planning permission and listed building consent to convert the fire station building into a hotel. Any delays are due to decisions they have made, not the council. We even offered to share the risk of expense to allow them to make progress on discharging planning conditions while the CPO was undecided. 

"Our clear and consistent goal throughout this process has been to bring this Grade II*-listed building back into use as within a reasonable timeframe so that it makes a positive contribution to the regeneration of Piccadilly rather than blighting it. We note that, as a result of the public enquiry, Britannia have 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 people of Manchester will hold them to that promise and no one will be more pleased than us if they honour their words. 

"It should be noted that they were given an opportunity to make a binding commitment to carry out work within an acceptable timeframe before we took CPO action, and had they done so the inquiry could have been avoided." 

The Confidential Opinion

Nobody comes out of this well. The Inspector for the CPO, Paul Griffiths, de-constructed the council's position over seizing the building forensically.

In his conclusions he acknowledges the importance of the building and the location in city centre development, but he found that 'the financial viability of the scheme the CPO is intended to bring forward has not been demonstrated and appears questionable at best.'

'Moreover', he continues, 'the urgency said to be necessary to secure the regeneration benefits of the redevelopment has not been made out and it appears that redevelopment of LRFS (London Road Fire Station), with the attendant regeneration benefits, would be more likely to come forward under Britannia's auspices than the council's. The fabric of the building could be safeguarded by measures that stopped short of expropriation.'

The judgement is humiliating for the city. 

But on the other side the prevarication and stalling of Langsam is not pleasant to observe either. There is a degree of churlishness in his attitude, bloody-mindedness too.

And as the inspector frequently states there are no guarantees of imminent work on LRFS by Britannia. '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.'

Since the inspector also refers to Britannia 'presenting a programme demonstrating that (LRFS) could be operating as a 4* hotel in 2014', this is worrying. Will Langsam stall again?

As we've stated previously and as the council states above, Mancunians will be watching carefully to see if work to correct 25 years of neglect starts imminently. The ball is well and truly in Langsam's court and he's honour bound to play the game. (JS)

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

AnonymousDecember 13th 2011.

Anyone who has ever set foot in the Britannia Hotel in the city centre would question the success of this firm in developing hotels.

Liverpool WagDecember 13th 2011.

"To say we weren't capable of running a four-star hotel is totally disrespectful".

Hello! Have you been to the Adelphi in Liverpool

JoanDecember 13th 2011.

Britannia Hotels boss Alex Langsam apparently claims that many council-owned buildings – including the Town Hall – are in a worse state than LRFS. I've been in the Town Hall on a good few occasions recently; it needs some work, but that's in hand. I'd love to see inside LRFS. Perhaps Alex Langsam would be willing to take a few of us round the building. It would be interesting to see whether his claim has validity.

Reader XxxDecember 14th 2011.

"I like redeveloping buildings..." - well get the f&*% on with it then ! Is quarter of a century a bit of a tight time-scale ?

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousDecember 16th 2011.

Well said. Langsam is all talk. He has no interest in developing the building. He is extremelly conceited and lazy.

AnonymousDecember 14th 2011.

The same Brittania that owns the Tatton Arms (and the Church Inn) in Northenden. Despite being the main building in the backdrop to the very attractive little Riverside Park it is being allowed to rot and is being systematically stripped of all its many features. Many of the locals are disgusted at the way this building is being allowed to blight what is a very attractive area.

AnonymousDecember 14th 2011.

Is this the same Brittania that was voted the worst hotel in the country for the Brittania hotel in Stockport.?
Everyone will be observing if they develop this building in a timely manor. Now we are in a recession it is the ideal time to get the work done at a reasonable cost.
Get things moving!

pammyranDecember 14th 2011.

Whilst it's apparent that the council didn't put a sturdy enough case together for the CPO, it sounds like Alex Langsam need to take a minute to crawl out of his own a*se, and reflect on 25 years of neglect to one of the most beautiful and loved buildings in the city centre. Disgusting attitude!

AnonymousDecember 14th 2011.

Maybe he'd like to start with something smaller, perhaps those two villa's he owns on Bury New Road in Broughton that he's allowed to rot for the last decade. The only thing worse than him letting them rot is Salford Council allowing him to.

1 Response: Reply To This...
tblzebraDecember 14th 2011.

You beat me to it Anon, I hate that he's left them to rot. They're Grade II listed and a matching pair of beautiful mid-Victorian Villas - Leighton House and Moor End (nos. 463 & 465 Bury New Road).


AnonymousDecember 14th 2011.

Manchester town hall is certainly in no worse a state - and probably a far better state - than the Brittainia Nottingham and unlike that building at least the town hall is currently undergoing rennovation. He comes over like a petulant child. Bloody well get on with it.

Barry CharlesDecember 14th 2011.

"Manchester takes it role as custodian of listed buildings very seriously" The Unitarian Chapel on Upper Brook Street is Grade II* listed and is on The Victorian Society's Most Endangered List. Just sayin like.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Barry CharlesDecember 14th 2011.

Forgot to mention (as did the City Council spokesperson) that its owned by MCC.

AnonymousDecember 14th 2011.

Whilst it's easy to be snippy about Brittania Hotels because their reputation is poor you have to acknowledge that they run a seemingly profitable business. OK, they may not offer the boutique qualities of the Great John Street Hotel or the Lowry but they're there and they stay open and employ people and pay taxes and rates.

I think this Brittania fellow seems to make a very valid point. Heaton Hall is a disgrace, Victoria Station is a disgrace, the Victoria Baths were a disgrace until volunteers and a TV programme highlighted it and there are plenty of other buildings that need money spent on them.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Ed CaseDecember 14th 2011.

No wonder you post as 'anonymous'... is that you Alex?

AnonymousDecember 14th 2011.

The only interesting point Langsam makes is his veiled suggestion about the cosy 'partnerships' between the City Council and certain developers.
The rest of what he says is demonstrably garbage.
It's a delicious irony that Langsam is German for slowly.

John NuttallDecember 14th 2011.

"The council had to admit at the enquiry that Britannia Hotels is actually held in high regard" , not by anyone that's ever stayed in one of their run down, scruffy hotels

AnonymousDecember 14th 2011.

I used to be a top manager with the Britannia hotel.... the worst company in the world to work for. I once found Alec Langsam in the skip at the back of the hotel collecting the fruit which the chambermaids had removed from the bedrooms and berating the Head Chef " Can't you use it " EVEN WHEN IT WAS VIRTUALLY ROTTEN ! what a guy, as for this building I went around it when it was first purchased and it had issues with maintenance even then. Only God knows what it looks like now. Its such a beautiful building.....crying shame its still in the hands of such a man.I drive past those Bury New Road villas everynight. The news they are in the hands of that devil means they will rot to the foundations. I am going to submit the start of a application for a CPO to John Merry, leader of Salford Council

AnonymousDecember 14th 2011.

Manchester Confidential do everyone a favour and request unrestricted access to the building for all to see. Post a photo log of really how badly decayed this building is.

AnonymousDecember 14th 2011.

I'd love to see inside this building.

AnonymousDecember 14th 2011.

Britannia said they would develop. 3 planning permissions so far they haven't??

AnonymousDecember 14th 2011.

Why have Britannia sat on this building for 25 years? The number of hotels in the city centre has shot up in that time. Get on with it!

tblzebraDecember 14th 2011.

Here's what it looks like inside:-




2 Responses: Reply To This...
tblzebraDecember 14th 2011.

Some good ones here too: www.urbexforums.co.uk/…/328-London-Road-Fire-Station-Manchester-26-5-08…

JoanDecember 14th 2011.

When I said, above, that "Perhaps Alex Langsam would be willing to take a few of us round the building." I did really mean it as a challenge to this person, but didn't hold out a great deal of hope. I've been in the Town Hall again tonight, and now I've just had a look at the pics inside LRFS linked above. I think the Town Hall was looking rather better...... so the challenge still stands. Think we should make an outing of it. Could ManCon try to broker this?

Ed CaseDecember 14th 2011.

Britannia 'Hostels' - says it all.

JoanDecember 15th 2011.

I was in the Town Hall last night and it was looking a thousand times better than the LRFS photos on the links TBLZEBRA provides. I suggested before that Alex Langsam offers a tour round the building to substantiate his claims. I’m not joking. I wonder if he’d take up the challenge. Could ManCon liaise on this?

Jeremy SmithDecember 15th 2011.

Whilst the focus of the rants on here is in the direction of Mr. Langsam and Britannia, I have yet to hear from any member of MCC what would have been proposed should the CPO have been successful. Any clues ?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Simon BinnsDecember 15th 2011.

The plan was to hand the building to Argent, who would bring forward the hotel proposals after they had found a suitable operator. The timescale for this was two years.

Jeremy SmithDecember 15th 2011.

Thanks for that Simon, would have thought Argent had enough on their plates with 3 Piccadilly schemes, the Hive and Elisabeth House (which took long enough)

AnonymousDecember 15th 2011.

I, for one, would definitely be up for a viewing of the place - I think there's been a request put in before hasn't there? The sad thing is that whenever this gets developed, so many of the beautiful features will be lost to joe public anyway. The need for viability as a business, is always a sad one when it comes to large graded buildings such as this.

AnonymousDecember 15th 2011.

Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service may be able to provide a link to a film the Chief Mr Dixon recorded when he retired, it shows the inside of the building (covered in tarpaulin and scaffold)!! Suggest you contact the Corporate Communications department for a copy or hyperlink

AnonymousDecember 15th 2011.

Is this this the same company operating the awful hotel near the coach station? Horrid and run down hole!!!

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