Planning madness

One building is to be sold for new housing. The other will remain standing for at least two more years. But nothing can be done to stop the demolition of a historic house while legal wrangling holds up development of an eyesore office block. A DANGEROUS

One building is to be sold for new housing. The other will remain standing for at least two more years. But nothing can be done to stop the demolition of a historic house while legal wrangling holds up development of an eyesore office block.

A DANGEROUS derelict building will be standing until at least 2008 while a much loved house looks set to be knocked down.

The ManuLife building in St George's Way, Stevenage, will stand for at least another two years despite the borough council receiving £3.5m to buy and demolish it.

But on the other hand campaigners are desperately trying to save Gunnels, a 1925 house in Fairview Road, from the bulldozers.


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The house is under threat again after owners John and Caroline Garrard submitted another application to demolish the house and put six two-bed flats and two three bed dwellings on the site.

A pervious application, which was for more flats, was turned down last month.

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A spokesman for the Fairview Road Residents Association said: "Why is the disgraceful ManuLife building still standing while a beautiful historic building, Gunnels, is under threat of destruction?

"We can destroy Stevenage's heritage but not unsightly and unsafe buildings. Is this the right way to develop for the future?''

Leader of the Stevenage Borough Council Brian Hall told The Comet he would be sad to see Gunnels go but that there is "not a great deal which can be done to save it".

He said residents do not realise that Stevenage Borough Council can only object to planning applications if they do not meet technical planning regulations set by central government.

He said if it is a valid planning application it has to be approved whether councillors believe it is right or wrong.

Cllr Hall is also concerned that there is nothing which can be done to speed up the removal of the ManuLife building.

It is a view shared by Stevenage MP Barbara Follett.

She said: "The Government, and the Deputy Prime Minister, is committed to ridding Stevenage of the ManuLife Building.

"That is why John Prescott has just given the council £3.5m to buy and demolish this eyesore.

"However, there is nothing that anyone, including the Deputy Prime Minister, can do until the request by the building's present owners, Bluebird Holdings, for an extension to their planning permission has been heard.

"Despite their unbelievably slow progress, Bluebird Holdings are within their rights and we will all just have to wait. But there is light at the end of the tunnel."

A council spokesman said: "If the owners, Bluebird Holdings, fail to convert ManuLife House into a hotel, and the borough council is then successful in acquiring the building through the use of a compulsory purchase order, we will seek to have ManuLife House demolished by March 2008."

Executive councillor for environment John Gardner said: "Until now it has been extremely difficult for the borough council to have any real influence over this site, as we don't own the building.

"But thanks to this funding we now have the opportunity to buy the site, bring it into public ownership and have direct control over its future."

o The borough council has also received £500,000 towards regenerating the town centre gardens and £800,000 for Austen Paths in the Chells area of the town.

The council hope to make the town centre gardens more attractive and open. The money will be spent on better paving and lighting to improve the public's perception of the gardens.

Work to demolish the existing shops and the flats in Austen Paths will begin after Easter. New flats plus one shop will then be built.

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