A charity which campaigns for the preservation of historic buildings has waded into the row over the future of Sheffield's former Coroner's Court, warning the site 'could be demolished within days'.
Anna Shelley, conservation adviser at the Victorian Society, urged Sheffield Council to implement a Building Preservation Notice on the former court, which would protect the building for a period of six months.
Authorities can impose such notices on sites they feel are of 'special architectural or historic interest and is in danger of demolition or of alteration in such a way as to affect its character as a building of such interest'.
The notice would allow campaigners six months to prove the building was of enough importance to be listed by Historic England.
Developer Firestone Developments has submitted a demolition notice to the council signalling its intentions to consign the building to rubble to make way a new apartment block.
But campaigners have voiced concerns that the notice comes as the council finalises its plans to make the area around the Nursery Street site a conservation area.
Ms Shelley said: "We urge Sheffield Council to implement a Building Preservation Notice for the Coroner's Court to buy campaigners more time to prove its importance as a historic building of interest.
"It seems completely baffling to allow the demolition of this fine historic building mere months before implementing statutory protection with the new conservation area and it would seem a very negative message in terms of the value Sheffield Council places on historic buildings."
The former Coroner's Court was built in 1913 by the first city architect F E P Edwards and was a state-of-the-art facility. It included the court, mortuary, post-mortem rooms, viewing chapel, witnesses' waiting rooms and police accommodation together with a yard and stabling.
Bomb damage during the Second World War led to a remodelling in the 1950s and youth court facilities were added to the site.
Ms Shelley said: "We have a South Yorkshire group who asked us for advice on the technicalities of what could be done as it's a very difficult situation technically because it's not protected in any way.
"It's very difficult with listings but we think that the front elevation of this building is very striking and the building was state-of-the-art when it was built and was part of a group by the city architect Mr Phillips so we think on those ground that it being listed should be considered."
Valerie Bayliss, chairperson of the South Yorkshire branch of the Victorian Society, has penned a letter to Paula Kham, chairperson of the Metropolitan Support Trust, who are listed as owners of the Kelham Island site on documents submitted to Sheffield Council.
She said: "The building has unfortunately never been listed, though it sits next door to two listed buildings. The interesting thing is that the building is included in a proposed Castlegate Conservation Area (CA) which is still in the development stage with the council.
"Once the CA is approved it would be much harder for developers to demolish buildings within it, which is why we think this prior notice has appeared now. Without the protection that listing or Conservation Area status provides, this fine building is at immediate risk and we have literally days to save it from being lost forever.”
Firestone Developments' demolition notice application stated that it hoped to start work as soon as Monday, August 13.
George Johnston, of Firestone Developments, said: "I bought the building with outline planning consent to cut the building in half and put a new block behind it and join them together.
"But it wouldn't work and it's not a viable scheme so the architect came up with a cost-effective alternative. I agree that the existing building is nice but it is in disrepair and is unoccupied and I feel that a new block of flats will help redevelop the area."
A decision is due to be made on the application by August 20.