Manchester City Council has recorded its "profound disappointment" that Britannia Hotels looks set to do a U-turn on its promise to develop a former fire station in the Piccadilly area of the city as a four-star hotel.
Britannia Hotels, which claims to be the UK's largest privately owned hotel company, with 39-hotels across the UK, has owned the Grade II-listed London Road Fire Station since 1986. Although Britannia has obtained planning permission on three separate occasions - in 1986, 1993 and 2010 - to transform the iconic building into a four-star, 227-bedroom hotel, building work has never started.
Losing patience with Britannia Hotels, Manchester City Council decided to apply for a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) to buy the fire station from Britannia Hotels. However, the council lost the CPO inquiry after Britannia's owner, Alex Langsam, guaranteed in a letter on 9 June 2011 that he would fund and implement the conversion of the building to a hotel "as soon as reasonably possible".
Now, in a letter to English Heritage, Britannia's financial director, Robert Ferrari, has said that developing the scheme in its present form "would not be sustainable either in the current climate or the foreseeable future".
Instead, he has asked for English Heritage's support in reopening discussions to consider an alternative plan to build a 15-storey glass extension in the building's courtyard. In his reply to Britannia Hotels, Henry Owen John, planning director, north west, English Heritage, dismissed Ferrari's request, saying that such an extension would "harm the historic and architectural significance of the fire station".
As well as recording its "profound disappointment in the fire station owner's failure to honour the spirit of the commitment given on 9 June 2011 in the CPO public inquiry" to go ahead with the hotel development, the council's executive is now urging Britannia Hotels to review its plans to redevelop the building immediately.
The executive also confirms that it remained willing to acquire the building in order to preserve it and facilitate its development as soon as possible.
Langsam was unavailable for comment.
By Janet Harmer
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