Which will stay?

A UNIQUE house with historic and architectural merit will be knocked down – but a dangerous and derelict building will remain standing after being given planning permission to be converted into a hotel. Six two-bed flats and two three-bed dwellings wil

A UNIQUE house with "historic and architectural merit" will be knocked down - but a dangerous and derelict building will remain standing after being given planning permission to be converted into a hotel.

Six two-bed flats and two three-bed dwellings will replace Gunnells in Fairview Road, Stevenage.

The owners of Manulife in St George's Way have been given permission to convert it into a 140-bed hotel.

Both applications were approved by councillors during Stevenage Borough Council's planning and development committee on Monday night.

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Fairview Road Residents' Association (FRRA) objected to the plans to knock down Gunnells and build flats saying it would increase traffic in the road, change the character of the area and set a dangerous precedent.

The association collected more than 1,200 signatures on a petition to save the building but council planning officer Martin Finch told councillors: "We can't turn down this application on the basis of how many people write to object."

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Resident Catherine Shadbolt told The Comet after the meeting: "We thought we lived in a democracy, how can the needs of one be put before the wishes of a whole community.

"I was particularly incensed by the planner's comments about not considering the 1,200 objections as it was not a planning issue. So why do they ask us?

"This has made a mockery of their public consultation process."

Resident John Vincent, who is an architect, told the committee he felt Gunnells had historic and architectural merit and the plans were "ill-considered".

Russell Linard, who spoke on behalf of the applicants, said the new building would be a credit to the area.

Planning officer Martin Finch told councillors: "While the house is attractive in appearance and predates other buildings in the area, it is not worthy of statutory listing and is not within the conservation area. There is some local interest but there is no policy to protect such buildings."

Cllr Tanis Kent said: "This building is part of our heritage. We have a duty to protect it. We are failing in our duty as elected citizens if we allow this to be pulled down."

Five councillors voted for the application and three against. FRRA will continue to fight for a change in planning policy to protect buildings of local interest.

Commenting on the Manulife application Cllr Bruce Jackson said: "I don't like it but I can't see any reason to turn it down. Am I not alone in thinking this is another delaying tactic by the developers?"

His concern about the developers' intention followed the fact that outline planning permission was first granted in August 1999, with full permission given in January 2001.

In January 2005 permission was given to extend the time period of planning permission but no work ever started.

If owners Bluebird Holdings do not start work on the conversion of Manulife within six months the latest planning permission will become null and void.

Cllr Jack Pickersgill said: "We can't do much about this. What we really want to do is tear it down and put social housing on there."

Seven councillors voted for the application and one voted against.

The application went ahead despite the hotel having 140 bedrooms and only 27 parking spaces.

* Email your views to: editorial@thecomet.net or via the website at www.thecomet.net. Alternatively write to: The Comet, Bank House, Primett Road, Stevenage, SG1 3EE.

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