It was a shocking site, watching the historical Royalty ablaze and then seeing the extent of the damage as the morning broke. It’s upsetting to see a much loved part of our local community get destroyed in that way. Understandably lots of questions are now being asked and speculation is rife about what happened and what the future now holds for the Royalty. So we decided to contact the owners True Pearl Ltd and put some of the most common questions to them to help Harborne Village get some answers about this iconic site.
What is the latest on the Royalty after the recent fire?
The true extent of the damage is yet to be assessed but regretfully the auditorium area has been badly affected by the blaze. We are supporting all relevant bodies to reduce the negative impact of the incident and we hope any inconvenience to the local community has been minimal. Our focus in the coming days is to make the area as safe and secure as possible. We wish to offer our sincere gratitude to the West Midlands Fire Service working in association with local police.
How did the fire start?
We don’t know. The fire service is investigating as one would expect.
What did you do to protect the building?
Securing an old building like the Royalty poses an extreme challenge and we have spent thousands of pounds on the operation. There have been numerous attempts to access the building on a daily basis. Over time we removed 16 ladders left by would-be intruders. We have worked with the fire service, the police and Birmingham City Council over several years to maximise security through conventional means including actual physical barriers to entry. Unfortunately, some measures, such as bricking up all entries and exits, can pose a danger to those who manage to get in but, in the event of a fire, cannot get out – the building is a warren. We had to be careful to protect human life and acted on fire service advice which meant the building was inevitably still vulnerable. We have supported the fire service in regular drills to make sure it could act quickly and effectively in the event of a major incident. As an extra provision, with the backing of the council, we gained planning permission for a car wash on the site with a ‘live-in” cabin which acts as a security post. The car wash manager walks around the building to check it on a daily basis and it was a member of staff who alerted the fire brigade to the latest fire. The car wash operator repairs minor damage.
What’s going to happen in the immediate future to the Royalty?
We will secure and clean up the site. We are clear we will carry out our responsibilities in this. We will then more accurately assess the damage. We have already met on site with Birmingham City Council’s consultant engineers Acivico and instructed a local tradesman to secure the building as directed. Approved fencing has been bought and put up. Acivico has instructed us to make safe the roof and the walls facing in a southerly and easterly direction. We have appointed a contractor to carry out all the works requested by the city council’s engineer. A company specialising in listed buildings is to survey the entire remaining building to ascertain any further works required.
Was The Royalty insured?
It is insured for public liability. Other than that, no. It is difficult to insure a building such as this.
What have you done since the building was purchased by True Pearl Ltd?
Our first action was to try to assess a future for it that would work commercially but would add value to the community, while protecting the Royalty as a Grade II-listed Art Deco building. Our aim was to enhance the Royalty as an iconic building but guarantee longevity for it. We have consulted over a long time with local businesses, community and arts groups, the local authority and any forums with an interest. An idea for a hub for local retail businesses and restaurants we deemed not commercially viable because of the building’s position at the end of the high street where there is not sufficient customer footfall.
An outline plan for over-55s high-end apartments with a pool, a gym, a cinema and community space got overwhelming support from those we consulted, including the Harborne Society. A public meeting gave 90 per cent approval. The proposal included space for electric cars for residents to use to minimise parking. But it did not win favour with the city council’s conservation and heritage panel nor Historic England so we did not submit a formal planning application.
What is the future for the Royalty in the long term?
It is clear a purpose needs to be found for the Royalty, and this is supported by the local authority and local people. Taking on board the city council’s conservation and heritage panel’s concerns we have sought advice from architects they work with. As a result we are looking to find a partner in a joint venture to take the building forward. Any resulting proposal must be commercially and financially viable as well as satisfying the desire to promote the building’s historic status and involvement with the community.
Will you work with any interested local parties?
Yes, we are always open to working with local groups as we have demonstrated over the years through our consultation and community involvement with local people and groups like the Harborne Society and the Harborne Business Association. On the arts side, for example, we have contact with arts Artsscoop who are keen to be involved in any community space. Any others are welcome to contact us. Sadly, communications last year with The Royalty Harborne Trust and its potential cinema operator came to nothing.