An inspector for Historic England has laid into the plans to redevelop Budgens with retail units on the ground floor and apartments above (19/05380/FUL). The conservation watchdog wants the developer, Morris Property, to “bring forward a more sympathetic scheme better suited to this prominent site.”
The intervention from Historic England is surprisingly strong. It usually does not more than remind councils of their legal responsibilities. There are some merits in its complaints. But it doesn’t seem to understand the need for a prominent building on this important gateway into Ludlow town centre.
Let’s begin with the legal responsibilities. Decisions makers, be they officers or planning committees, must have regard to the “planning balance”. The merits of the scheme balanced against the demerits. For many years, heritage was treated as just another factor (material consideration) in the planning balance. But in 2013 and 2014, the courts ruled that the law demanded that special consideration should be given to the impact of developments on heritage, listed buildings, unlisted heritage assets and conservation areas. That includes their settings.
The former Budgens supermarket is not a listed building or of any architectural or heritage merit whatsoever. It is not in a conservation area but borders the Ludlow and Galdeford Conservation Area. hence, Historic England says:
“Prominently positioned at the junction of Tower Street, Upper Galdeford and Lower Galdeford, the application site is in a highly sensitive location adjacent to the Ludlow and Ludlow Galdeford Conservation Areas. In addition, the proposed development also has the potential to impact upon the significance of a considerable number of other important, and in some cases highly designated, heritage assets and their settings.”
The inspector complains that Heritage Impact Assessment and Design and Access Statement for the development do not fully assesses the impact of the proposals on the surrounding heritage assets. The main concern is the fourth “penthouse” storey.
“We are concerned that the proposed building would be an incongruous and intrusive feature on the skyline, interrupting existing vistas across the conservation areas.”
The inspector also wants the back of the building to be subservient to (lower than) the Upper Galdeford frontage:
“The lack of substantial variation in height and building line, the level floor plates throughout and the symmetrical treatment of the elevations creates the impression of one excessively large block, rather than six individual buildings. Furthermore, the overall appearance is of an ad hoc collection of multiple, disparate architectural elements rather than a more unified, cohesive whole.”
By implication, this means that Historic England would not have approved of the Grain Loft, the modern extension of Marston’s Mill. But it did not make any substantive comment on that project.
Historic England go on to complain that the building “would unduly dominate this prominent corner.” I think that is the idea. To put a major building at a prominent gateway into Ludlow.
There is merit is checking the visibility of the fourth storey and whether it will interrupt views of St Laurence’s from the car park area. There may be merit in stepping down the back of the scheme facing the Library. But I can’t see how that would work for the east elevation along the car park entrance. It would look ragged. I have no objection to the mix of old and modern designs. That is a common approach in heritage contexts.
But there is no doubting that Historic England’s intervention is a major challenge to this project. It is now up to Morris Property to make a response. This application may end up before the Southern Planning Committee if agreement can’t be reached.