Letter: Court building is silent witness to historic loss

This letter sent to the Star was written by J Robin Hughes, Hallamshire Historic Buildings, Worrall, S35

Monday, 30th September 2019, 12:13 pm
Updated Friday, 4th October 2019, 06:40 am
The Old Coroners Court on Nursery Street

With the planning application for the Old Coroner's Court site due to come back to the planning committee on October 8, we should review how we got ourselves into a position where a much valued historic building is set to be demolished despite that fact that all parties, campaigners, Councillors and even the developer himself, believe that it can be re-used and should be kept.

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Permission was granted to a previous developer in 2015 for a scheme that retained the façade. The current developer, George Johnston of Firestone Developments, inherited this, but disliked it. He actually preferred to try to keep the entire building, and was prepared to work with the Council on proposals for this. In August 2018 a demolition notice was submitted, but this was withdrawn after conversations with campaigners and Councillors, and the Council even issued a self-congratulatory press notice. The Council were also formally requested to use an Article 4 directive to ensure that planning permission would be required for demolition, but did not do so. In October the building was damaged by arson. Then in November, the Star proudly announced a new proposal that would retain the historic building, showing that pre-application discussions were in progress. Mr Johnston was later to complain that he had worked up eight different schemes, rejected because at 12 storeys they were too tall. In February 2019, the Council approved another 12-storey scheme in Nursery Street, about 50 metres from the Old Coroner's Court, and the following day abruptly cancelled the consultation on the promised Castlegate Conservation Area, removing the last remaining means to protect the building. It was no surprise that in March another demolition notice was submitted, and the Council, having left themselves no means of resisting it, had to approve the demolition.

Perhaps the planning committee can persuade Mr Johnston to defer his plans and give the Council another chance to agree a sensible alternative scheme along the lines he has already proposed. Given that he has already delayed a year, I imagine he might be reluctant. Otherwise, the city's character will be further diminished by yet another avoidable demolition. Councillors have made many positive statements about heritage, but the Old Coroner's Court is silent witness to just how far they still have to go to make these meaningful.