Derby City Council

Council’s Assembly Rooms demolition plans in ruins

Following the Tories’ failed manifesto promise to refurbish the Assembly Rooms, their next plan was to accept the offer from St James Securities to build a New Performance venue in the Becketwell Area.

As part of this announcement in July 2020,  the Cabinet authorised the demolition of the Assembly Rooms “as soon as possible”. The Leader, Cllr Poulter explained the rationale,

” if nothing else to give us a vision of what the space looks like and help us to guide us as to what might best go on there”.

The only problem with this “wait and see” approach is that it’s against the Council’s own planning rules.  The application has expired, and will need to be re-submitted with fully contracted plans for the site after demolition.

Background

Derby City Council has an agreed Local Plan containing many policies to inform planning decisions; these are designed to protect and enhance the City. The City Centre is a Conservation Area for which there is a specific policy, E18. The most pertinent section is

“Conservation Area Consent will be subject to conditions or a planning obligation to ensure that demolition does not take place until a contract for carrying out an approved detailed redevelopment scheme has been awarded”

At present, the Council has no idea of what the detailed redevelopment scheme might be.

15 July 2020 – Cabinet meeting to approve demolition asap.

22 July 2020 – the Council’s agent, AECOM, submitted the planning application form “Demolition of the Assembly Rooms and adjacent multi-storey car park.”

In terms of advice given, the form records : “Discussions were held with Ian Woodhead from Derby City Council regarding the proposals. Guidance was received regarding the application documents and the potential for a meanwhile/temporary use for the site following demolition”

3 August 2020 – Full planning application submitted to Ian Woodhead, Council’s Planning Officer, by AECOM including Planning Statement (written by AECOM)

That Statement addresses the Future use of the site, and that:

“In the short to medium term following demolition, the site and (adjacent Market Place) will be used to host a temporary market including food and drink stalls with seating areas, public open
space and car parking.”

It proceeds to explain that the temporary structures would not be covered by the application and “It is noted that this consenting approach is also consistent with the Council’s C-19 Recovery –
Temporary Buildings and Structures Guidance.”. A document that was published 4 days after the planning application was submitted

AECOM gloss over Policy E18, in their report, and fail to mention that a clear redevelopment proposal is required in the planning application

18 September 2020 – Historic England objects to the demolition and “has serious concerns regarding the application on heritage grounds.” It goes onto identify that it is in contravention of National and Local policies

“We consider that the issues and safeguards outlined in our advice need to be addressed in order for the application to meet the requirements of paragraphs 192, 193, 194, 196, 198 and 201 of the NPPF 2019. As it stands, the proposal is in conflict with saved policy E18 of the City of Derby Local Plan Review (2006)”

18 September 2020 – The Council’s own Conservation and Urban Design Team concluded:

“Strongly object to proposals to demolish the building as a heritage asset that contributes positively to the character and appearance of the conservation area and proposals do not preserve or enhance its character or appearance…. I have strong concerns about this proposal to demolish the building and that there are no proposals for its replacement in this key location. This is clearly contrary to National and Derby’s Local Planning Policies as outlined above ( in the report)

19 October 2020 – AECOM write to Ian Woodhead because:

“It is recognised that there has been significant objection to the proposals, and there are recurrent themes across many of the representations”

And then proceed to avoid the “recurrent themes”:

“If the long-term redevelopment proposals are not sufficiently advanced by the time the Assembly Rooms site is cleared, the Council has a meanwhile use option which would be implemented to avoid an empty site in such a prominent city centre location”

They have clearly not read E18 which requires an approved and contracted plan in place before demolition starts….not by the time it ends!

25 November 2020 – Cllr Holmes in response to a question from Cllr Shanker stated that responses from the statutory consultation had resulted in the application having to be reviewed and that it will be re-submitted in due course.

A Council spokesman said :

“In light of recent submissions, as part of the statutory consultation process, the council is undertaking further work to support our application to seek demolition. We expect this to be considered at January’s planning committee.”

Comment

It was not necessary to have a statutory consultation to establish that the proposal to demolish the Assembly Rooms, in a Conservation Area, without a long term plan, was against National and Local Planning policies. A quick consultation with the Council’s Planning Officers would have established that in a matter of minutes… there was  no need to wait 4 months.

It seems that too much reliance was placed on AECOM for professional guidance, who were contracted for this specific purpose.

“A planning consultant will be procured to support the Council in evidencing and satisfying the planning requirement for demolition. This is estimated to cost £60K…” Cabinet report 15/7/2020 s 7.17

AECOM singularly failed to provide a planning statement on the most critical point of the project.”

It feels that someone, somewhere, didn’t listen to the Council’s own Planning Officers.

The Assembly Rooms “curse” continues…

Categories: Derby City Council

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