Saturday, 23 June 2012

Demolition would remove a 'good and much-cherished historic local building', Victorian Society

The Victorian Society has added its voice to the public outcry against Galliford Try's planning application to demolish the Victorian Willesden Library to make way for a warehouse style Cultural Centre. This is their submission:

Dear Mr Bates

RE: Demolition of former Willesden Green Library building (Locally listed, 1894, Newman and Newman)

It is disappointing that despite a request in March to be kept informed of developments in this case, the Council failed to notify us of this application. Instead we have been reliant on a huge number of concerned local residents to inform us that an application was submitted.

Given this application differs very little from that presented to the public a few months ago (and on the principle of demolishing the Victorian library building has not changed), I can only reiterate those objections expressed in my letter of 13 March this year.

The old Willesden library was erected in 1894 following a poll of the Ratepayers of Willesden. Built in an Arts and Crafts style, its form, unusual roof configuration and good quality decorative plasterwork are particularly pleasing. Overall it can be said to make a very positive contribution to the streetscape and the conservation area in which it sits. We disagree with the view of the applicants that this building is of “little architectural value”.

Its significance is enhanced by its prominent site, noted in the Willesden Green conservation area character appraisal as one of two principal foci of the conservation area. In the context of the consulted scheme, the historic building occupies only a small portion of the site. Moreover, it lies on the site’s fringes, not at its centre and there is thus scope to develop the site behind the library, leaving it to remain unaltered.

Proposals to demolish the old library fly in the face of the Council’s own guidelines on heritage and urban development. The conservation area character appraisal stresses the significance of the building and of preserving and enhancing the character of the conservation area. The Council has also stated the “need to conserve the best of our built heritage against pressure for redevelopment and unsympathetic alteration.”

Public consultation exercises came too late in the day to be of any real worth, with the first of two public exhibitions being held in March, and a second post-application. It is also clear that no major amendments were made to the proposals as a result of this exercise and the opposition pronounced by local people. An indication of that opposition was the 5,700-signature petition presented to the Council.

The proposed cultural centre fails to abide by the Council’s stipulation that proposals must be of “exceptionally high quality in terms of design and contribution to the streetscape”. It would see the removal of a good and much-cherished historic local building and an erosion of the character and quality of that part of Willesden.

Yours sincerely

James Hughes
Conservation Adviser

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