UPDATE MAY 2018. This is a success story for the Hereford Civic Society. Original Plans were proposed by Herefordshire Council to demolish these special buildings and replace with a fire station on this important site. Our story is told in the pages of PLACE see below. It was good to hear Cllr. Bramer recently eating his previous words and now extolling the virtues of retaining the principal buildings of the former boys’ school in Bath Street and building new flats behind.
With this important site on the market HCS arrogantly proposes a simplified design code for the redevelopment. In 2013 an application for listing was refused by English Heritage (EH), in spite of the important work of three Herefordshire architects.
The decision was well described by David Whitehead in our Spring 2014 edition.
“To justify its decision EH found the Boys’ Home disappointing in several respects. Albeit designed by three ‘well known architects’ with listed buildings to their credit elsewhere in the region, the Boys’ Home lacked ‘unity’. The ‘Domestic Revival (?) style’ of the original building by George
Haddon of 1876 was in conflict with the 1902 additions by George Godsell who, according to EH, worked in a ‘Palladian style’.
This supported the dismissive statement that the building lacked ‘cohesion’. Moreover, the accretions and deletions of recent times have destroyed the evidence of its historic function.
These negative judgments arise when a building is viewed in isolation, simply evaluating its intrinsic qualities, with yardsticks taken from the corpus of buildings found in larger and more prosperous cities. However, from the perspective of its position in Hereford’s Central Conservation Area a much stronger case can be made for its preservation. The Conservation Area boundary ignores the implicit line of demarcation made by the inner ring road – Bath Street – and deliberately embraces the buildings associated with John Venn and the Society for Aiding the
Industrious – the corn mill, the public baths, the alms-houses (Venn’s Close) and the Boys’ Home. Taken together this is a remarkable group – a
veritable townscape of philanthropy – and it is difficult to think of a parallel elsewhere in the Midlands, apart from Bourneville in Birmingham.
These buildings make a major contribution to the Conservation Area and their coherence contrasts conspicuously with the fragmentary landscape, dominated by temporary car parks, across the road. Even EH accept that the three structures that make up the Boys’ Home are given
some unity ‘through the use of matching materials and details’, which, we might feel, reflects the best that a notable trio of Victorian architects could achieve within the limits of their budget and the aesthetic canons of their time”. David Whitehead
Our proposal is based on the suggestion we made in our magazine of Winter 2014. Then I wrote:
“My proposal involves the retention of the front parts of the original Working Boys’ Home and the rooms behind the facades facing onto Bath Street, including the registry office. Behind these retained buildings tall blocks of flats will rise, enclosing informal courtyards.
141 modern flats, so conveniently located, retained history, and all accomplished through organic growth; proving that Hereford can both
“maintain the best of the old and create the latest in contemporary housing” John Bothamley
At HCS we are pragmatists. We have lost the listings fight but we will press strongly to retain some of our history so that Hereford does not become another anonymous city. Here we make a developer friendly suggestion.
This should be the least that Herefordians accept. We don’t want a city of all new and possibly cheap housing, reflecting the low values of residential housing in Hereford. Retain the best of the create good new stuff.
THE WOOLHOPE CLUB has sent an application to English Heritage to get the former Working Boys' Home in Bath Street listed.
HCS is disappointed that English Heritage has decided not to list the former boys’ home being the site earmarked as Hereford’s future fire station. An EH assessment out on 12th February 2014 says the former working boys home in Bath Street – now the county offices – is not of “sufficient architectural quality” to merit listed status.In a letter confirming its decision, EH outlined the reasons for rejection as follows:
* Architectural quality: although the building is designed by well-known local architects and exhibits architectural quality, the original building has been altered and significantly extended, and despite attempts to unify the buildings through the use of matching materials and details, the 1902 additions are Palladian rather than Domestic Revival in style and contrast with the earlier buildings, and there are some insensitive mid-C20 additions to the rear;
* Planning interest: the building has evolved over time and it lacks cohesion;
* Alteration: whilst it has claims to historic interest as a former working boys’ home, evidence of how the building functioned has been eroded by later alteration, particularly to the interior where the original plan form and circulation are no longer legible and the function of the different elements has been lost.
* Conclusion: the local architectural and historic interest of the former Working Boys’ Home in Hereford is recognised by its inclusion in a conservation area. However, the building is not sufficiently intact or of sufficient architectural quality to merit statutory designation."
Listing would have helped the Society’s aim to preserve some, at least, of the distinctive buildings. The Council wishes to sell the site to Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service for a new fire station. The Fire Service say their present premises are no longer fit for purpose. HCS, and many others, think the new Link Road would be an ideal site.
No support for a new fire station was the conclusion of an innovative style meeting – Café Pol – held by the Society on Monday 3rd February. Facilitated by Perry Walker, who devised the format for Café Pol, the intention was to see if the participants could reach a consensus about the future of the old Working Boys’ Home and School in Bath Street.
The meeting heard about several alternative uses from complete demolition of the rather special buildings, with historical connections back to John Venn, to conversion to an Innovation Centre. A proposal to retain the front parts of some of the buildings, with flats to the rear, appeared to be the front runner. Next was the use of the site as a campus for a potential university for Herefordshire. The visionary appeal of this proposal was offset by doubts about whether the learning approach really would be distinctive. The thought of a large facility for fire engines, in such an important position overlooking the City Centre, which would also include the demolition of the existing 1960’s fire station to make way for a car park, was unacceptable to the members and interested parties who attended.
This conclusion, believed to be the first consultation on this proposal, is being sent to Harry Bramer, the Cabinet member for asset sales. Café Pol looks set to become a useful forum to discuss controversial proposals where consensus is required following informed input from experts.
HCS Objection to proposals as submitted to Hereford Council follows:
We wish to object strongly to this application on the following grounds.
Existing Buildings The Woolhope Club, in its objection to this application, has set out why the present buildings should not be demolished and the adverse effects on the Conservation Area of this inappropriate proposal. We fully support them.
Our objections are in respect of the “land swop” involved and to the content of the application itself.
The land swop. On 14th April the Council decided to dispose of the site “on the basis of a land swop and other financial considerations based on market valuations”. One of the reasons given is “The land swop deal ensures that HC gets the equivalent of market value for its site, a quick disposal and the facility to generate a capital receipt from the disposal of the fire station site”
This swop involves the exchange of 0.53 hectares at Bath Street for 0.76 hectares of a cleared site at the fire station; this does not appear to give value for money to HC but there is no information available to the public to justify the Cabinet’s questionable decision and such information should be provided to the full council and public before the application is determined.
In its urgency to get rid of surplus sites HC has not given enough consideration to other acceptable locations for a new fire station that could become available in the near future, There is no testing or analysis of alternative sites that appear to be as suitable if not more so. e.g. on the New Link Road or the country bus station, or to realizing the full value of the Bath Street site if it was developed in a more appropriate way that would improve rather than be detrimental to the conservation area
The land swop also puts HC in a position where it could be determining an application in which it has a clear interest and although we understand that the rules and regulations allow this, it is a highly questionable procedure which does not inspire public confidence particularly in the light of the lack of information available on the land swop.
Our comments on the supporting documents refer to the paragraphs in the relevant documents and are as follows-
Statement of Community Involvement.
Para 1.12. Bath St is considered the most suitable site. This we question – se below.
Para 2,5. The consultation should be genuine, responsive and demonstrable. We do not feel these requirements were met as the responses during the consultation period and particularly at the public exhibition (which is acknowledged in para 3.3 as being the centre piece of the consultation) were poor and did not deal adequately with the many questions raised. In particular the exhibition gave no information ( only now included in the appendix to the Planning Statement) on why the Bath Street site had been chosen. Para 4.4 acknowledges that there were complaints about the lack of transparency in this respect.
Para 4.7. This paragraph attempts to justify the demolition of the existing building and even claims that the proposed fire station would have a “positive impact” on the Conservation Area. Given the proposed architectural design (see below) this is untrue.
Para 4.8 acknowledges the loss of mature trees. The existing trees are a major asset to the area and the loss of such trees should be avoided and this could have been the case with an alternative residential use of the site.
Paras 4.11 -4.14 attempt to justify the architectural design of the proposed fire station. We agree with the respondents objections listed in para 4.11 that the design is insensitive, not suitable to and out of character for a conservation area and has a negative impact on the landscape. It is certainly not as claimed, a building of architectural merit ; it is more suitable to an industrial estate or the Rotherwas Enterprise Zone that it is to Bath Street.
The training structure is a particularly ugly structure which will have a major impact on its surroundings. If this tower is such an important feature of the operation of the fire station it demonstrates that such a feature is unsuitable for a conservation area.
Para 5.4. This states “this is the only suitable site suitable for the development of new facilities for this essential public service”. This is not so. The Appendix to the Planning Statement clearly demonstrates that the Commercial Road site could, with cooperation form HC, be equally viable and have a similar response time.
Para 2.4 It is acknowledged that the site “..falls within the setting of a number of listed buildings…”. Hence our view that the proposed architectural design is quite inappropriate for the area.
Para 3.2 The total floor area of the proposed building is given as 1907 sq.m. This compares with the total area of 5325 sq.m given in para 2.1. The surplus space is require for training, turning space etc but this density of development is quite inappropriate for a valuable city centre site such as this and only confirms our view that residential development would be a “better value for money” solution.
Para 3.7 “The design of the new fire station will provide a building of architectural merit.” Not so, see comments under 4.11-4.14 above.
Para 3.21. Site selection. 11 sites studied but no consideration appears to have been given to finding a site on the proposed Inner Relief Road. See our comments on Appendix 2.
Para 3.25. This summarily dismisses the Commercial Road site which we believe could be made available. See comment under Appendix 2.
Para 4.6. This summarises the requirements of the NPPF. Our view is that these are not met by this application because the proposed new fire station:-
Certainly does not “add to the quality of the area for the lifetime of the development.
It does not “optimize the potential of the site”.
It does not “establish a strong sense of place”.
It does not “reflect identity of local surroundings and materials”
It does not “create safe and accessible environments”
It is certainly not “visually attractive as a result of good architecture and appropriate landscaping”
Para 4.7 The application has not paid attention to the desirability of “preserving or enhancing the appearance or the character of an affected conservation area”.
Paras 4.8-4.10. Paras 128, 129 and 134 of the NPPF are highly relevant particularly Para 134 which emphasises how the significance of an asset can be harmed or lost by inappropriate development of the type proposed. While the NPPF acknowledges the need to move away from narrow and proscriptive attitudes this application does not propose changes that are “intelligent, imaginative and sustaianable”
As these requirements of the NPPF are not met the application cannot be approved.
Paras 4.13-4.21, These paragraphs detail the applicable saved policies of the UDP. We do not believe that this application meets these requirements.
Para 5.4. This claims that Bath Street is the only “available, suitable and viable” site. See our comments on Appendix 2.
Para 5.11, Valuable trees that enhance the city’s landscape are to be lost which we believe could be avoided by an alternative and more economic development.
Para 5.16. This acknowledges that there will be a “permanent moderate level of harm to the built heritage asset” but then claims this will be negligible or
even of minor benefit to the Bath Street frontage. This argument is specious as the proposed design will certainly bring no such benefit.
Para 5.27. Noise. Even with the measures proposed there must be adverse effects on the houses to the rear of the site.
This Appendix sets out the studies carried out by HWFRS on alternative sites to Bath Street. While it is clear that the majority of sites studied are quite impracticable we believe insufficient attention has been given to two alternatives.
The application makes no reference to any studies carried out on a possible site on the proposed Inner Relief Road. There have been past proposals that a site for a joint emergency services centre could be sited on this road. Such a site would appear to meet the HWFRS requirements. Further information on this possibility should be made available before the application is considered.
The Commercial Road site is said to be large enough and to have suitable response times and it is dismissed on grounds of availability and cost. On availability this could be overcome if HC took a more strategic long term view and brought forward its already stated intention to close the bus station. As relative costs of any of the proposals are not available we cannot comment on this aspect but this alternative should be studied further by HC and HWFRS before any approval is given to Bath Street as it opens up the possibility of a better and development and a higher return to HC.
This proposal appears to have come from an anxiety by HC for early disposal of the Bath Street site without sufficient study of the true economic development value of the site.
Insufficient information is available to the public on whether the proposed land swop represents value for money.
The proposed design of the building and training facility is poor and inappropriate and damages the Conservation Area
A residential or mixed use project would enhance the area and preserve its character and make better use of the Bath Street site
The application does not meet the requirements of either the NPPF or preserved sections of the UDP
There has been insufficient study of alternative sites, particularly on
the Inner Relief Road and Commercial Road.
While the application attempts to justify the proposal we have set out above the many aspects where it is not viable and in particular that it does not meet the requirements of national and local planning policies.
It should therefore be rejected.
UPDATE MAY 2019. WORK HAS STARTED AT LAST, this is great news on what we hope will be an icon within the City, retaining the best of the old and building new.