OUR HERITAGE BULLDOZED

FURIOUS residents have expressed their disgust after a planning 'loophole' allowed a developer to demolish a Harborough building steeped in the town's history.

Without warning, the 108-year-old former Urban District Council’s gas office on the corner of Clarence Street and St Mary’s Road was razed to the ground by Hallway Estates on Wednesday last week.

The firm, which owns the site, was able to flatten the building because it does not have listed status and is just outside the town’s conservation area.

Yet just two years ago former owners of the site had to battle to get planning permission for their proposal to sympathetically restore the building and convert it into flats.

Their project never happened but councillors insisted at the time on imposing planning conditions that parts of the building be retained to preserve Harborough’s heritage.

The planning permission is still in force for the site but because the new owners are not interested in developing it in the same way, there was nothing to stop them from simply demolishing the building.

Robert Gilbert is one of the former owners behind the 2005 planning application. He said: “It’s disgusting. We had to go through so much to get planning permission to restore and retain certain parts of the building.”

Residents, history experts, councillors and people connected with the premises have expressed their dismay at the loss of one of the town’s more interesting buildings.

The gas office was based there until the 1960s until it relocated to 10 High Street in 1970. It later became a tool hire shop, most recently JB Tool Hire.

Douglas Wooldridge, honorary president of Harborough Historical Society, said: “It was considered quite an ornate and good specimen of a building. It should have had listed status. A great many of our townspeople and members of the our society would condemn the action.”

District and county councillor Sarah Hill said: “This was a building of local historical and architectural interest. Nobody is happy about this.”

Robin Totten, of Harborough Civic Society, said: “We were just discussing this at a meeting on Tuesday. It’s a shame. Some of the members were saying how they remembered when it used to be the gas offices. It’s another bit of old Harborough that’s disappeared but I suppose you can’t halt the march of progress.”

Arthur Thompson has lived in Clarence Street for 45 years. He added: “It’s like vandalism. It was a nice-looking building.”

However, Tom Beynone, a director of Hallway Estates, defended the firm’s actions. He said: “It’s unfortunate because it was quite a nice building. It’s the way it goes sometimes. We followed the correct procedures.”

Hallway Estates, of East Haddon, Northants, was the developer behind the Halfords and Carpetright site built in Rockingham Road, Harborough, in 2006.

It has submitted a planning application for the gas office site to build retail space and four residential units. The proposal still has to go before the planning committee for approval and can be viewed at Harborough District Council’s offices, reference code 07/00534/FUL, where comments can be made.

Gareth Jones, the council’s development control manager, said: “Council officers have worked to see the retention and conversion of the old building resulting in a planning permission for conversion to flats in 2005.

“Notwithstanding this, the owner has demolished the building without consultation with council planners.

“Because the building is not listed or within a conservation area, planning permission or any other form of planning consent was not required for the demolition work.”

To get listed building status, an application must be made to English Heritage.

*The Mail is asking people to submit their ideas for buildings in Harborough which should be listed or covered by a conservation order. Send your comments to the usual postal address or email alex.blackwell@harboroughmail.co.uk or phone 01858 436004.