This property is of particular significance being located in the heart of the historic town centre. The row of buildings stretching from no 46 up past the Church as far as no 96 is included in the Wood St conservation area. Many of these buildings are nationally or locally listed. The variable height of the buildings is one of the attractive features of this row. Facing the open area just south of the Church where the main road divides, No 70 is notably prominent. The presentation of this building therefore has a significant impact on the integrity of the conservation area.
Previous alterations had not been kind to the ground floor, and in recent years a mock Tudor frontage was added (without planning consent) - though that could have been removed without difficulty. The first floor windows and in particular the tiled roof remained notable features. It was with considerable reluctance that we felt obliged to accept the owner’s assessment that the building was beyond repair and should be demolished.
A planning application in 2014 features a bar and ten residential units. It was a modern design, and with the roof stepped along the middle of the building it was a clumsy attempt to respond to criticism of the height in response to the refusal of an earlier application. There were several reasons for refusal of this application but in particular it was noted the window height and floor to ceiling height did not relate to the adjacent buildings, and in summation the proposal was an “incongruous development detrimental to the character and appearance of the area failing to enhance the Wood St conservation area”.
In 2015 a further application still featured a bar but the number of residential units was reduced to a more sensible seven. The criticisms of the previous application had been corrected with the overall height the same as the original building and featured the same floor to ceiling height and window alignment. We did not warm to the mansard roof but accepted this as a compromise. The overall design of the frontage was traditional except for bi-fold doors, but the developer agrees to replace these with a stall riser. We thus considered what was then approved as acceptable. So after a bumpy ride we thought the developer had taken heed of the sensitivities and the design was now settled.
In 2017 came as a surprising further planning application attempting to increase the number of residential units from seven to nine and to achieve this it was proposed to build to the height of no 72 next door. The application was quickly withdrawn, but left us in no doubt that the developer remained insensitive to the conservation area and continued to be motivated by the desire to pack in as much development as possible.
The demolition of the original building was followed by a long period of inactivity which eventually resulted in the council initiating enforcement action. Having endured the eyesore of an empty plot for so long we were relieved when work started. But our hopes then turned to ashes when we realised that instead of the approved design the monstrosity that we now have began to take shape. Given the history of planning applications for the site it is astounding that the developer should have proceeded with something that would clearly be unacceptable. The sensitivities surrounding the conservation area, with the requirement to keep to the proportions and alignments of the original building, had been clearly spelt out in the context of the previous applications.
In May 2020 we alerted the Council enforcement team to the variation to the planning consent. There followed six months of exchanges involving the Council, the developer and ourselves which culminated in the Council issuing a demolition order in December last. The developer appealed and the Planning Inspectorate held a Public Inquiry on 28 September 2021. The developer fielded a barrister and a heritage expert. The Council was represented by an enforcement officer. Otherwise the only speaker was myself and I spoke at length to refute the arguments submitted on behalf of the developer. To our delight the Inspector dismissed the appeal.
The developer has now been given twelve months to demolish the building and commence work on an approved replacement. We remain at a loss to understand how the developer came to disregard the importance of following the approved design, and cannot identify any excuse for the failure to do so. It is however the case that Councils rarely issue demolition orders, often preferring to find some sort of compromise. So we can count this as a rare and somewhat surprising victory. However we doubt whether the developer has the funds to undertake demolition and a rebuild, so this saga is likely to be far from over.