TrustNews January 1987

 

60/61 Colebrook Street

 

At the time of writing it appears inevitable that these early 19th century cottages, a sketch of which formed the front cover of the December 1985 Newsletter, will be demolished. Since there has been a good deal in the press on this subject, members may wish to know where the Trust has stood and what action it has taken.

 

In January 1985 it was noticed that the cottages were boarded up and the Trust made inquiries as to their future. We were told that there was no question of demolition and, indeed, towards the end of 1985 the City Council invited us to consider acquiring them ourselves (e.g. as a Heritage Centre or for some other purpose). In association with the Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust we spent a good deal of time and some money inspecting the buildings and drawing up plans. We considered that they could be restored but before we reached any conclusions as to acquisition, we were told, in February 1986, that the Council was considering renovating them for its own use.

 

In May we heard that the City had received an adverse survey report; that the buildings would be too expensive to repair and that it was intended to demolish them. We suspect that the belief that the cottages were beyond economic repair was a major `actor in the minds of Councillors who voted in favour of their demolition. However, it is the view of the Trust, based on professional opinion, that it was perfectly possible to restore the cottages at a cost which would have enabled them to be sold profitably on the open market, and this was the view also of English Heritage, whose Structural Engineer inspected the buildings, and who strongly objected to their demolition.

 

Preservationists are popularly supposed to have a Pavlovian reaction to all forms of change (e.g. "They" are pulling it down, "We" must oppose it). However, Winchester Preservation Trust endeavours to take a balanced view of every case on its own merits, since we believe that not everything that is old is worth preserving and also that heed must be paid to what is proposed in its place.

 

We therefore delayed expressing a view until we had been given a presentation of the plans of the office buildings which the City Council proposes to erect for its own use on the site of the cottages. Our conclusions were that the cottages were of sufficient interest to be retained and that the City Council's plans for their replacement were not of sufficient merit to warrant their destruction.

 

The cottages, though unlisted, are in a Conservation Area. As the application for constent to demolish was made by the City Council, it had to be referred to the Secretary of State for the Environment for determination.

 

In September we learned that this consent had been granted, and we also learned that some of the objections which had been lodged with the City Council (including our own) had not been passed on to the Secretary of State.

 

We felt at the time (and feel now) that since the City had sought representations from various amenity bodies, including ourselves, and the Secretary of State was aware of this, common sense and fairness would indicate that any representations received should be passed to him, since otherwise he would conclude that no one had objected.

 

We also believed (mistakenly, as events proved) that this was required by law.

 

The various Acts of Parliament and Regulations governing these cases are complicated and not always well drafted and we felt that on this occasion the City, inadvertently, had slipped on a banana skin. This sentiment was shared by the Hampshie Buildings Preservation Trust, with whom jointly we had a meeting with the City.

 

"Far from it" was the view expressed by the City at our meeting, "...we have been meticulous in following the legal procedures" (which proved to be correct) "...and furthermore, we have done far more to consult the public than the law requires" (well maybe, but rather less easy to see).

 

Our objective at this meeting, and in further interchanges with the City, was to persuade them that the question of demolition should be referred back to the Secretary of State, since his original decision had been taken without benefit of all the objections received. In this we failed. Despite having spent a good deal of time taking legal advice we were unable to establish beyond doubt that there were grounds for requiring the City to do this. Our opinion remains that they should have done so in any case.

 

Thus it appears that Winchester will lose two more cottages, perhaps of no great architectural merit, but undoubtedly of historic interest and some charm, which could have been restored and fitted into a sympathetic redevelopment scheme. In their place we will get offices of questionable architectural merit.

 

All of this has happened despite the opposition of the Civic Trust, the Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust, English Heritage, the Acanthus Group, Winchester Ratepayers and Residents Association, to say nothing of the Winchester Preservation Trust and, judging by letters to the press, some sections of the public. The fault of course is largely our own: we should have got together earlier and shouted louder. The law is an uncertain weapon and popular opinion is a very much more potent one.

 

David Middleditch

 

Footnote: 75/76 Eastgate Street

 

(see drawing by Michael Carden on the front cover of this Newsletter)

 

These two Regency cottages - like 60/61 Colebrook Street - are unlisted buildings in a Conservation Area. An application has been made for their demolition. This application would have to be referred to the Secretary of State only if the applicant was the City Council (as in the case of Colebrook Street), otherwise the City Council can decide itself whether to give permission for demolition.

 

The City Council in fact owns one of the cottages. The application to demolish was, however, made by the owner of the other one. Whatever the circumstances there is something of an anomaly here. At least the planning law needs to be made consistent.

 

DSM