Businessmen fight fire with fire over hotel site

By Jonathan Kalmus, July 22, 2011

A showdown between two of Manchester's most powerful Jewish business figures ended on Wednesday, with the last day of a public inquiry to decide the fate of one of Manchester's most iconic buildings.

Eric Pickles, the Communities and Local Government Secretary, must now decide between Manchester City Council chief Sir Howard Bernstein, and the Hale-based Britannia hotelier Alex Langsam, for the right to develop the city's London Road fire station.

The 1906 listed building, the city's former fire station worth over £5 million, is owned by Britannia, which says it has been blocked by the council for 25 years from developing the site into a luxury hotel.

But Sir Howard Bernstein attempted to confiscate the building, through a compulsory purchase order (CPO) last August, claiming that Britannia had repeatedly delayed its plans and failed to rejuvenate the key city-centre site within a reasonable timescale.

Britannia appealed against the compulsory purchase order, and now the battle must be decided this autumn by the Secretary of State over who will own and develop the site.

Closing arguments from both sides were heard on Wednesday. When the hearing opened in April, Britannia's lawyer, David Elvin QC, challenged the inquiry to decide whether Sir Howard had overstepped his authority by using the CPO to force a development deadline.

Last week Manchester City Council said it would cost Manchester tax payers £700,000 if the inquiry ruled against it.

Neither Britannia or Manchester City Council would comment on the specifics of the inquiry.

Last updated: 9:42am, July 22 2011