Historic Letchworth building facing demolition after apartments and office space plans put forward

PUBLISHED: 15:49 31 January 2020 | UPDATED: 15:49 31 January 2020

The Town Lodge building could be knocked down after a new planning permission submitted last month. Picture: Archant

The Town Lodge building could be knocked down after a new planning permission submitted last month. Picture: Archant

Archant

A historic building in Letchworth town centre is facing demolition after an application for redevelopment was submitted.

The five buildings on Gernon Road outlined for redevelopment by Croudace Homes. Picture: PromapThe five buildings on Gernon Road outlined for redevelopment by Croudace Homes. Picture: Promap

The Town Lodge building, in Gernon Road, has been earmarked for 10 two-bed apartments and a purpose-built office space, in a new planning application brought by Letchworth-based house builder Croudace Homes.

The proposed redevelopment also includes the demolition of five neighbouring buildings in Gernon Road, including the old council document print centre.

Town Lodge - built in 1923 - is well-known for its iconic art deco features, and lies within the Letchworth Conservation Area - designated as having special architectural or historic interest.

Formerly used as a school and later as council offices, Town Lodge has been vacant since 2011, aside from its temporary use as council offices in 2017/18 while the district council offices were being refurbished.

The Town Lodge building could be knocked down after a new planning permission submitted last month. Picture: ArchantThe Town Lodge building could be knocked down after a new planning permission submitted last month. Picture: Archant

The application comes after a near decade-long recognition by the district council and Heritage Foundation - who jointly own the freehold of the site - that the area was ripe for redevelopment.

At a meeting of the NHDC cabinet in September 2018, it was suggested "the building is outdated and unable to comply with modern requirement", with its "internal alterations making it difficult for conversion and modernisation."

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Anthony Roche, deputy chief executive of NHDC, said: "The Town Lodge site was declared as no longer required for its previous use, following the project to consolidate all staff in the district council offices on Gernon Road.

"The disposal of the site was put on hold while redevelopment of the district council offices was pursued, as Town Lodge was needed as a temporary office building. The site is identified in the draft NHDC Local Plan for redevelopment."

One concern raised by resident Susan Mitchell, who lives on the road, was the protection of the building's art-deco style, in keeping with the architecture of the area.

"The choice of the present site is astonishing," Mrs Mitchell said. "The Heritage Foundation have no objections to an art deco building being demolished, despite their avowed intentions to preserve heritage in the town.

In a letter to Mrs Mitchell, seen by the Comet, chief executive of the Heritage Foundation Graham Fisher, said the "the building itself was not considered to have significant heritage value."

Croudace Homes has confirmed, however, that "as the site is located within the Letchworth Conservation Area, particular care has been taken to ensure the design preserves and enhances the character and appearance of this heritage asset".

David Ames, director of stewardship and development at the Heritage Foundation, said: "We believe the development is a great opportunity to bring employment opportunities into the town centre, along with much-needed residential accommodation.

"This will lead to the regeneration of a building that has become obsolete due to its poor energy performance and its failure to meet modern requirements for a building of this nature. A great deal of consideration was given to the design of the building and how it fits into the local area.

"We are also encouraged to see the expansion of a local business and for them to make a significant investment in the town centre, keeping jobs in Letchworth. Based on this, we have supported the planning application."

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