The Newcastle-under-Lyme Civic Society are mounting a major campaign to save the former St Giles and St George’s School after the Newcastle Borough Council granted the County Council permission to demolish the building – although it appears that the County Council do not own this structure.
The Newcastle-under-Lyme Civic Society wishes to state that it objects in the strongest terms to the destruction of this building and in a manner which could only be described as wanton since its imminent removal appears to be without any serious justification, and in the light of serious objections from the Borough Council’s own Conservation Advisory Working Party, the Victorian Society, Historic England, Thistleberry Residents Association, Watlands Residents Association, Lyme Property Developments and the Newcastle Civic Society itself. A very strongly argued submission from the Victorian Society Head Office in London was deemed inadmissible by the NBC Planning Office since it was received outside of the 22 December deadline for submissions. Indeed, it could be questioned if the week before Christmas was the best time to consult residents on anything much less such an important application.
The Consultation with Members of the public appeared to be a poorly advertised and a hastily thrown together exercise in an empty room in the Lancaster Building just before Christmas. Some diagrammatical floor plans had been produced showing what could replace the school building without giving any indication, at all, of the type of building this might be. The current rumour is that it will be around four storeys high – and if that is the case, then it will be very much out of keeping with the nearby Victorian buildings. In these circumstances how councillors making the planning decision could possibly tell if the new building could comply sufficiently with national and local planning policies (or fit in with its surroundings) in order to grant permission for the demolition, is truly amazing.
The school, described as a ‘handsome, attractively-detailed historic building’, and already on a register for locally important historic buildings sits in a prominent position within the Newcastle town Conservation Area. It is a positive contribution to that part of town serving as an attractive backdrop to the Queens Gardens, another important feature of the town. On these grounds alone, planning permission to destroy should have been refused.
The apparent and unseemly haste to demolish the School is to prepare the site for a ‘Civic Hub’ – to be shared with the Police, the Borough Council, the County Council, Health Agencies, the Library, and the Registry Office. Whilst there is no objection to Agencies doubling up, it would seem an overuse of a building in this location, given that parking will be limited to the Police and disabled drivers. Being next door to the relatively new bus station would not appear to be an ideal situation either given the current traffic congestion at this point. The likelihood might be that after a few years this building might also be as unfit for purpose as the current Civic Offices in Merrial Street, itself awaiting the demolition ball. The Guildhall is another building under threat – despite assurances that it will remain in NBC hands and after much expenditure it is, we are informed, to be leased to private hands. The Old Police Station, the Pubic Lavatories nearby and the Orme Centre in Poolfields are all, and similarly, vulnerable.
Thus, the Civic Society is especially concerned with the seeming cavalier manner in which heritage appears to be treated in Newcastle. This is particularly worrying since so many important buildings have disappeared over the years to the point that when the Civic Society began to put together a town centre trail leaflet to point out buildings of historical interest to visitors we were hard pressed to find much which would detain passing tourists.
At the end of the day we end up with the kind of landscape that we allow. We hope that residents of Newcastle will feel as strongly about the demise of the school as we do and will voice their objection to the County Council, the Borough Council and those councillors who made the fateful decision to demolish. We hope that you will join us to help preserve what has been agreed as ‘heritage’ for future generations to appreciate.
14 January 2016