Letchworth’s Town Lodge could be spared amid planning standoff

PUBLISHED: 17:22 11 August 2020 | UPDATED: 17:22 11 August 2020

Town Lodge, on Gernon Road, has been subject to a planning permission since December 2019. Picture: Jacob Savill

Town Lodge, on Gernon Road, has been subject to a planning permission since December 2019. Picture: Jacob Savill

Archant

Letchworth’s doomed Town Lodge building has been handed an unlikely lifeline thanks to a planning dispute between developers and the district council, it has emerged.

In December, a planning application was submitted to demolish Letchworth’s historic art deco building – and its neighbouring buildings on Gernon Road – to make way for a three-storey residential block and separate office space.

In recent months, however, heritage and amenity concerns raised by the council’s conservation officers and Historic England have cast doubt over the viability of the scheme.

Developer and applicant Croudace Homes has been asked to consider four alternative proposals, but the Letchworth-based company appears to be at loggerheads with the district council over how to proceed.

Should no agreement be reached, Town Lodge may yet remain intact – an outcome which would be celebrated by local residents who have campaigned for its preservation since the original application was submitted.

At the centre of the impasse is a disagreement over the retention of Town Lodge’s art deco frontage.

Senior conservation officer Mark Simmons has pushed for the facade to remain – in a style similar to the former Kayser Bondor factory in Baldock, which is now Tesco Extra.

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This, he argues, would “placate Historic England” and ensure the building “still contributes to the character of the Letchworth Conservation Area”.

Croudace has dismissed this idea as “undeliverable” however, and insists that retaining the Town Lodge exterior will not be commercially viable under any circumstances.

Another alternative, which is favoured by Mr Simmons, would be to reduce the capacity of the development down to seven flats and a smaller two-storey building more amenable to the grain and land use of the conservation area.

Croudace have also dismissed this option out of hand, saying: “Our approach to the site is dependent upon the ten flats providing the commercial return which enables the whole scheme to proceed.

“A reduction in the number of flats from ten to seven will represent a reduction in GDV of around 30 per cent. Without an element of the scheme providing a positive return, there can be no scheme.”

Crucially, in its latest planning addendum, Croudace has admitted that if no agreement can be reached with NHDC, “the most likely alternative to the current proposals” is that the “site remains vacant.”

A spoksperson for the company told The Comet that “we are currently waiting for North Herts District Council to consider our application”.

North Herts District Council meanwhile, has insisted they are “still waiting for a response” from Croudace Homes following “conservation design queries” – but has declined to offer any further comment on the matter.

To view the planning application in full, go to the NHDC planning portal and search 19/02999/FP


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