Green light for Stevenage high-rise flats on Icon site

Outside the Icon building in Stevenage Lytton Way

The Icon building in Stevenage will be demolished to make way for 576 flats in blocks up to 16 storeys high - Credit: Archant

Planning permission has been granted for the Icon building in Stevenage to be demolished and 576 flats built in its place, after two public inquiries found in the developer's favour.

The Hill Group has been given the green light to demolish the Icon office site in Lytton Way - known locally as the eagle building - and build 576 flats in seven blocks up to 16 storeys high

Stevenage Borough Council had refused planning permission in March 2020 on the grounds the "height, design and appearance would result in the incongruous form of development," and the project would be "an over development of the site which would be harmful to the character and appearance of the area". The local authority also raised concerns over the "demand on the infrastructure" the proposed development would bring.

The developer appealed the decision and a public inquiry by a Secretary of State-appointed planning inspector in July 2021 resulted in permission for the development being granted.

The borough council subsequently launched a legal challenge, submitting a claim to the High Court for judicial review of this decision, which resulted in the decision being quashed after the Secretary of State conceded there were grounds it was flawed.

A new public inquiry, with a different planning inspector, has now considered the original appeal against the council's refusal to grant planning permission, and the Secretary of State has upheld the appeal and approved the development.

Artist's impression of the proposed development for the Icon site in Stevenage

View of the proposed development from Chequers Bridge, looking south over the railway line - Credit: Supplied

In her report, the second planning inspector said the Icon is "architecturally one of the more distinguished buildings in Stevenage", but "there is no demand for the existing building for employment use".

She said: "While the loss of the existing building would be unfortunate, in the absence of any realistic commercial and practical interest in the existing building’s re-use, it appears inescapable."

She also said that "given the council’s stated aims to regenerate the New Town, the recent permissions for the nearby multi-storey car park and Matalan, and the planning applications (with resolution to grant) for other tall buildings, Stevenage is likely to see the development of a number of taller buildings".

She admitted "the proposed development would have a negative effect on the character and appearance of the area," but said "the level of harm would be no greater than moderate" and "the adverse impacts would be insufficient to outweigh the benefits".

She said that, "although there may be issues with noise, anti-social behaviour, crime and lack of community cohesion locally, it has not been demonstrated that the proposed development would worsen any existing situation".

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Councillor Simon Speller, the council's portfolio holder for environment and climate change, said: “I am disappointed on behalf of the people in our town that the government’s planning inspector has approved the redevelopment of the historic Icon building.

“The proposal to redevelop the unique building was overwhelmingly rejected in March 2020 by Stevenage Borough Council’s Planning and Development Committee. The committee raised concerns that the proposed development would be out of character for the area and could impact on local infrastructure. We have worked hard to defend this decision, including through a successful legal challenge in 2021 that led to this new planning inquiry.

“I firmly believe that planning decisions should always sit with the elected members of local councils, who are guided by national and local policies, and are accountable to local communities. We will review the planning inspector’s decision in detail and consider what steps to take next.

“The Icon building is in the heart of our town, a well-known landmark with a proud history and vibrant design. There is a great deal of affection for the Icon and I will continue to make the case to the owners of the building that there is great need for a bright, iconic future for the site that we can all be proud of in our town.”