Demolished? The Birds Eye Building on Station Avenue
Sadly the C20 Society call in failed in its attempts to save the Birds Eye building in Walton on Thames and we now see the start of the demolition of this iconic building…
Update 13th September 2018:
Walton Court, Station Avenue, Walton-on-Thames
You would have possibly seen that back on the 30th July Elmbridge Council unanimously agreed to approve plans to demolish and redevelop Walton Court on Station Avenue – more commonly known locally as The Birds Eye building.
You can read the agenda and minutes of the Special Meeting of the Planning Committee here:
An iconic piece of well loved 20th century architecture to be razed to the ground for more flats…?
Maybe not…read on for news of the resistance movement…
Over the past month or so we have seen some fabulous pictures (some of which we will share throughout the rest of the post) and heard some wonderful stories of penguins, flamingos and the Keep Fit team, as well as hearing lots of sadness that the building is going to be torn down.
There is a quite quintessentially British Pathe News piece on the Penguin Pool here (Thanks to Gregory Gyllenship for sharing this with us!):
We like a nose around Twitter and stumbled across a very interesting tweet from the C20 Society a month or so ago…
So what does this actually mean?
We contacted the C20 Society for some more information and we are delighted to publish the response from Grace Etherington, the assigned C20 caseworker, in full below:
Grace Ethetrington, C20 Society caseworker 13th September:
“Firstly, the context of why we requested call in.
I have attached our letter that we sent to the MHCLG (Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government) to request a call in of the decision. This questions Elmbridge Council’s process in deciding to approve the application (which I still don’t think has been formally ratified, but the Planning Committee’s recommendation was to approve).
If MHCLG decide to call the decision in it will be determined at public inquiry, which we think is appropriate for a case that rests on public benefit. The Council could have elected to do this anyway, but instead they kept the decision in-house.
National planning policy sets clear criteria for the demolition of listed buildings, and the Planning officer’s report suggests that other factors were considered rather than the just the question ‘does this scheme deliver substantial public benefits?’, which is the only question on which this decision should rest. There haven’t been any clear rulings on what constitutes substantial public benefit, which a public inquiry could help to resolve. We don’t think delivering market price housing should qualify as substantial public benefit.
The Council cite exceptional circumstances due to their own poor delivery of new housing in recent years. We hope that public inquiry will expose issues in how the allocation of potential housing sites across the Borough has been carried out, as this assessment does not mention that Walton Court is Grade II listed, instead classifying it as a brownfield site. A very large majority share of Elmbridge’s new housing delivery had been allocated to the redevelopment of Walton Court, but there seems to have been a massive oversight in failing to mention the limitations that listed status would bring to potential redevelopment.
The circumstances are representative of housing issues across the country, and we are concerned that this case could set a worrying precedent for other listed buildings. If the applicants only need to show that it would be cheaper to knock a listed building down to provide market price housing rather than convert it, this would present a serious risk to our country’s heritage of all ages.
I know the circumstances are complicated (a major reason why it needs to be reassessed outside of the local authority), so here’s more about the building itself.
Broadway Malyon 18th August: “Proposals to replace a former corporate headquarters with a major residential scheme have been approved by planners in Walton-upon-Thames near London.
The new scheme will provide 375 new homes and will replace the former Birds Eye headquarters which has stood empty on the site for more than a decade.
The existing building, designed by Burnet, Tait & Partners in the early 1960s, is Grade 2 listed but the loadbearing superstructure of the main office building is constructed using pre-cast beams comprising High Alumina Cement (HAC) which was subsequently banned due to its potential for catastrophic structural failure.
Catherine Croft, C20 Director 21 August 2018 Call-in request for listed building demolition:
The Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP
Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
2 Marsham Street London SW1P 4DF
By email email@example.com
21 August 2018
Dear Secretary of State,
RE: Call-in request for listed building demolition –
Complete Demolition of Walton Court (The Bird’s Eye Building) Station Avenue, Walton-On-Thames, Surrey KT12 1NT.
The Twentieth Century Society is writing to request that the Secretary of State call in this case. The application seeks total demolition of Walton Court, a Grade II listed building.
The evidence base for this decision is convoluted, and we consider a call in of the case to be necessary to ensure the complex circumstances are scrutinised and understood. The case raises important questions about the application of paragraph 195 of the NPPF. This paragraph reads as follows:
Where a proposed development will lead to substantial harm to (or total loss of significance of) a designated heritage asset, local planning authorities should refuse consent, unless it can be demonstrated that the substantial harm or total loss is necessary to achieve substantial public benefits that outweigh that harm or loss, or all of the following apply:
a) the nature of the heritage asset preventsall reasonable uses of the site; and
b) no viable use of the heritage asset itself can be found in the medium term through appropriate marketing that will enable its conservation; and
c) conservation by grant-funding or some form of not for profit, charitable or public ownership is demonstrably not possible; and
d) the harm or loss is outweighed by the benefit of bringing the site back into use.
Our interpretation of this paragraph is that there are two sets of conditions under which the demolition of a listed building may be granted: either the test for substantial public benefit, or the satisfaction of all four listed conditions (a-d). Paragraph 36 of the officer’s report states that the application has failed to meet the second condition (b) and therefore the four test route cannot be pursued. It is therefore clear that in this case demolition may only be granted on the grounds of substantial public benefit. It is not made sufficiently clear in the officer’s report to the planning committee that the test for public benefit test is the only relevant consideration in this circumstance.
Historic England has only withdrawn its objection to demolition if the local authority considers the test for public benefit to be the appropriate deciding factor. They maintain their objection if the local authority choose to decide based on the four listed conditions (a-d).
We are particularly concerned that the test for public benefit is being misapplied in the following areas:
The planning officer’s report is complex and repeatedly cites “conservation deficit”, which seems to be a measure of loss of profit due to listed status. The report claims the retention of the listed building to be economically unviable. We do not see this as relevant to the application of the public benefit test;
The argument relies heavily on a refusal to consider housing development on other sites in the borough covered by statutory protection, including all sites in green belt land, but NOT those protected by listed building status. This strategy is set out in the local authority’s Land Availability Assessment (2016). It seems anomalous to us that green belt sites should be excluded in this way, and no mention made in this document (which the current arguments rests strongly upon) of the desirability of preserving listed buildings. The assessment of this case places great reliance on the imperative for Walton Court to be demolished in order to meet a significant proportion of new housing provision in the borough. We do not agree that this has been proven to be the case. We are concerned about oversights in the approach of this assessment, and consider this evidence to be inadequate to support the argument for substantial public benefit;
The application dismisses the possibility for reuse of the existing listed building as a viable alternative to demolition. We believe the applicants have failed to convincingly show it to be impossible to provide housing on the site without demolition of the listed building.
We believe that this application could well set a precedent for the misapplication of the public benefit test, in particular for cases where the level of harm to a listed building is undisputedly substantial. The application will also set a benchmark for the acceptability of general housing development. In our view this case therefore meets the test in Nick Boles’ statement (date: 26 Oct 2012) of conflicting with national policies on important matters, and warrants a thorough reassessment outside of the local authority. Call in would provide a means of clarifying the public benefit test, and could avoid widespread publicity and a confusing and unhelpful precedent in the minds of developers.
Finally, consultation with the other National Amenity Societies suggests that all other cases involving complete demolition of a listed building have been called in since the NPPF was introduced.
We think this case is sufficiently complex to justify a similar approach.
Copies sent to
Rishi Sunak MP firstname.lastname@example.org
Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Local Government)
Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
For additional background we have also published the C20 Society Press Release from July 31st (when approval to demolish and develop was granted by Elmbridge Borough Council:
C20 Press Release – Walton Court, Station Avenue, Walton on Thames
31st July : C20 is dismayed at decision to demolish grade II listed Walton Court
The Society has been campaigning over the past few years to save Walton Court, the former Bird’s Eye Headquarters in Surrey.
Yesterday Elmbridge Borough Council voted to demolish the 1962 building by Sir John Burnet, Tait and Partners, which was listed Grade II in 1995.
Bird’s Eye was one of a large number of firms who moved their offices from central London to sites across the South East during the 1960s. They commissioned high-quality, technologically advanced offices, with carefully planned facilities and integrated landscape for their new HQ.
The current plans for demolition and residential redevelopment came to the Society’s attention in 2017, after the site was bought by Crest Nicholson. We have been concerned about the building for a long time, as it has been empty for the last 10 years. The Society considers Walton Court to be suitable for residential conversion, although Crest Nicholson argue that this would not be economically viable.
Government instructs local planning authorities that they should only grant consent for total demolition of a listed building in very exceptional circumstances. They should not grant consent unless applicants have conclusively proved that the loss of the building is necessary to deliver substantial public benefit. Advice on what constitutes ‘substantial public benefit’ is unclear.
In this case the applicants argue that only by demolishing Walton Court can much-needed housing be provided in Elmbridge. The Society is not convinced that providing new housing is a big enough public benefit to outweigh the loss of the historic building. We also are unconvinced that housing cannot be provided anywhere else in the borough.
The Society is deeply concerned by the precedent this case could set. An independent assessment of the potential for conversion was undertaken, which called many of the points made by the applicants into question, including their estimation that the financial loss brought by a conversion-based scheme would be around £11 million.
We are greatly disappointed that Historic England withdrew their formal objection to the proposed demolition, although they consider the building to be architecturally and historically significant.
This case has highlighted failures in current planning legislation’s protection for historically important buildings. We are disappointed that Elmbridge Council have approved this application. We feel it is definitely a case that should have been be taken to public enquiry, so that the relative benefits of the heritage and housing issues could be publicly debated.
We are exploring options available to us to continue the fight against demolition.
For more information about Walton Court’s history, please see our Building of the Month piece.”
The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government have suggested that they will make a decision at the end of this week!
Watch this space as they say!
Update 19th April: Exhibition being held today at Cornerstone Church (38 Station Ave, Walton-on-Thames KT12 1NU) from 5pm to 8pm on the application for replacing Birdseye building with 375 homes
Two planning applications relating to the Birds Eye Building (Station Court) have recently gone online on the Elmbridge Council planning portal. One relating to Listed Building consent to demolish the building and the second a full application for development, both submitted by Crest.
Application for Listed Building consent to demolish the building
Application to demolish listed building in association with a development comprising 375 residential units and mixed use units (A1- A4, B1, D1 and D2) together with basement parking, ancillary residential facilities, access, servicing, car parking, cycle storage, plant, open space and landscaping.
The target date for a decision (for the demolition) is shown as 25th May 2017
Full Application for Development
Development comprising 375 residential units and mixed use units (A1- A4, B1, D1 and D2) together with basement parking, ancillary residential facilities, access, servicing, car parking, cycle storage, plant, open space and landscaping following demolition all existing buildings AND Listed Building Consent for the demolition of all existing buildings.