[Updated]When “Conservation area” does not mean heritage will actually be conserved

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January 22, 2015 by Juha Repo

Update to this article in January 2015. The demolition of the historic buildings has not started yet. There is another consultation on “non-material” issues open at Southwark Council planning website, follow this link 

We are still hoping that the conservation area could be saved in its entirety rather than just one facade.

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On 1 July 2014, against the strong objections of English Heritage and the local community, Southwark Council’s planning committee approved an application (No. 13/AP/3791) to demolish over 50 per cent of the buildings in the designated Valentine Place Conservation Area in London SE1.

The approved development will destroy a Victorian warehouse and the entire structure of an impressive 1910 Edwardian neo-classical bakery building, leaving only the façade.

21 Webber Street Copyright Barbara Grehs

21 Webber Street
Copyright Barbara Grehs

Despite clear stipulations in the adopted conservation area appraisal regarding retention of the buildings, rooflines, and original chimney stacks and chimney pots of this historic industrial townscape, at no point did the developers ever publicly present any options for retention versus demolition.

English Heritage had set out six serious objections to the application, quoting core policies Section 72 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act, The National Policy Planning Framework (NPPF), and Southwark’s adopted Core Strategy (2011). The most telling of these was, “Were this development approved, it is implausible that the current conservation area would merit its designation due to the height, design and materials proposed.”

Southwark’s response to this expert opinion was to completely disregard the adopted Appraisal’s stipulations on how development should take place within the conservation area, and to insist in its report that the development would actually enhance the setting of the conservation area.

At the planning meeting on 1 July, when questioned about the seriousness of English Heritage’s concerns, Southwark’s head of design and conservation was unable to provide any clear justification for the demolition and even went so far to describe their views as “subjective”.

This is by no means an isolated case: many highly contentious applications have been approved in this particular part of Southwark since 2010, and at committee meeting level specific councillors appear unwilling to:

  1. listen to rational, well-researched and intelligent objections from communities and ward councillors who care deeply about their local area;
  2. ask questions of planners, developers and those speaking in the objectors’ three minute slots;
  3. vote against applications, however destructive they might be to heritage and communities.

The Valentine Place area became a local talking point in March 2010, when the building in 1 Valentine Place, the bit visible to Blackfriars Road was suddenly demolished. See the thread about this on the LondonSE1 forum.

After a local campaign the rest of this unique complex of heritage building was declared a Conservation area by Southwark Council in March 2012. Read the LondonSE1 article on this here. 

It would be fair to assume most local residents then thought that the threat to our industrial heritage was over, until it became clear that plans had been submitted to Southwark Council which would only retain the façade of the old bakery building, and in fact destroying much of the conservation area (while not all of it is within the new development and not currently threatetened).

Also we learned that as a new 8-storey building had by now been built to replace the first demolished heritage warehouses, this itself was used as a marker for new building heights in the new bit of the same new development nearest to One Valentine Place.

So to summarise how we see it: An old warehouse, loved by local residents gets demolished before anyone can act. A local campaign gets the rest of the townscape declared as a conservation area. A new office block replaces the already lost bit of the townscape, and that itself now is used to decide acceptable building heights as existing building stock. Even if it had replaced a warehouse that really should also have been part of the conservation area in the first place, had it not been lost before people knew to act.

Thanks to local resident Barbara Grehs for her information for this article. You can still download her extensive work on this historical townscape using the link in our previous article on Valentine Place. 

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One thought on “[Updated]When “Conservation area” does not mean heritage will actually be conserved

  1. […] is in stark contrast for the recently approved plans for the former Maltina bakery building in Valentine Place, where only the facade will be retained – but of course that building […]

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